Traumatic Brain Injuries Increase Risk of Prison Sentence: Study

The findings of new research highlight additional long-term risks associated with traumatic brain injuries, finding that individuals who suffer severe head trauma face more than double the risk of ending up in jail later in life.

In a study published this month in the Canadian journal CMAJ Open, researchers concluded that men had 2.5 times greater risk and women had 2.76 times greater risk of being incarcerated if they had previously suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), when compared to individuals who never suffered a head trauma.

Researchers from Canada followed 1.4 million young adults ages 18 to 28 who lived in Ontario, Canada since July 1, 1997. They were followed until December 3, 2011, when they either were federally incarcerated, died, lost eligibility for healthcare or the study was concluded. The history of head injuries was obtained from emergency room and hospital records.

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More than 3,500 people who were followed by the study were incarcerated during that time. Researchers said the incidence of incarceration was higher among participants with prior TBI compared with those without prior head trauma.

Overall, men and women were 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated if they suffered a serious head injury than those who had not. The incarceration rate amounted to 102.6 TBIs per 100,000 person years, compared to 33.5 per 100,000 person years for those who had not sustained a head injury.

Men who had experienced a TBI were three times as likely to be incarcerated and women who had TBI’s had 2.76 times increased risk of going to jail. In fact, the risk for females was much higher, reaching a factor of four, before researchers adjusted for other variables. However, they admit the pool of incarcerated women was much smaller than men.

“Potential behavioral consequences of TBI, such as aggression and impulsivity, could increase propensity for involvement with criminal justice,” the researchers determined.

The new study indicated 77,000, or about five percent, of people sustained at least one serious brain injury.

Researchers also observed a dose response relationship between the number of TBIs and the risk of incarceration among men, meaning the more head injuries they suffered, the more likely their risk of incarceration.

“Traumatic brain injury may result in long-term disability and is a major cause of death and disability,” wrote study authors. “The impacts of TBI are broad and diverse and may include behavioral changes and cognitive impairment.”


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