UK

Four out of five young offenders have history of head injuries, study suggests

Researchers looked at young people being held at Polmont Young Offenders Institution (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Researchers looked at young people being held at Polmont Young Offenders Institution (Andrew Milligan/PA) Researchers looked at young people being held at Polmont Young Offenders Institution (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A study has found 80% of young men in a young offenders institution in Scotland had at least one significant head injury in their lifetimes.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Glasgow, examined a third of juvenile males in HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont in 2019.

The report concluded that, of the 103 individuals examined, who were all aged 16-21, 82 (80%) had suffered at least one significant head injury in their lifetime.

Of the sample examined, 69 young male offenders had experienced repeated head injuries over long periods of time.

The Scottish Prison Service said that the under-21 population at Polmont was lower than in 2019, with 179 people (male and female) under the age of 21 currently there.

The causes of injuries were generally due to fighting or assault.

Mental health problems and substance abuse were also common among the young offenders.

The researchers found a link between head injuries and mental health problems, such as anxiety and distress.

The research added that there was further evidence to suggest those who had suffered a head injury had poor behaviour control and were more often reported for incidents while incarcerated than those without.

Researchers say they believe those with poorer behaviour control, alongside other psychological problems, may go on to become lifelong offenders.

Professor Tom McMillan, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “Our study reveals important new information on both the prevalence and the impacts of significant head injury in young male offenders in Scotland.

“Until now a limited understanding of this area has made it difficult for prisons to develop effective management and intervention strategies to help improve these young people’s health and reduce the chances of reoffending.

“The study findings suggest that there is a need for juvenile prisoner programmes to take into account the impacts of significant head injuries, and also a need for more work to be done to reduce future head injury risks in this group.

“This is likely to require training and education of staff and education of prisoners about head injury.”

The study also found that disability associated with a serious head injury was less common in young male offenders than in adult male or female offenders, arising in 13% of juveniles.

However, the prevalence of significant head injury was equally as high in each of these groups.

Previous research has shown the risk of future head injuries is high in those with a history of similar injuries.

The risk remains at its highest in older males but researchers have warned their findings could indicate that young male offenders are at greater risk of future disabilities associated with head injuries than previously thought.

The paper, Associations between Significant Head Injury in Male Juveniles in Prison in Scotland UK and Cognitive Function, Disability and Crime: A Cross sectional study, is published in PLOS ONE.

The work was funded by the Scottish Government.

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “The health, wellbeing, and personal development of children and young adults in custody is a key focus for the Scottish Prison Service.

“This includes being mindful of the impact of adverse childhood experiences, injuries and trauma, and the lasting impact that many have had.

“We work closely with our partners in the NHS and third sector to provide a range of trauma-informed support and opportunities for development, to meet the needs of all people in our care, including those aged under 21.”