The link between traumatic brain injury and criminality is poorly understood, but a growing body of evidence suggests a history of brain injury significantly increases a person’s chance of being incarcerated – including a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
For the study, researchers evaluated the records of over 1.4 million people between the ages of 18 and 28 in 1997 in Ontario, Canada. By 2011, over a decade later, the records showed those with traumatic brain injury were more than twice as likely to be federally incarcerated compared to healthy individuals.
The researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital say they chose that specific age group “because of its high risk of TBI and involvement in the criminal justice system”, in a public statement.
According to the findings, people without a history of traumatic brain injury had an incarceration rate of approximately 0.2 percent, compared to 0.5 percent among those who had experienced a brain injury.
Traumatic brain injury can affect people in a myriad of ways. The most well-known symptoms of TBI include headaches, nausea, confusion, and memory problems. But, the injury can also cause more complicated symptoms such as changes in behavior, mood, thinking, and reasoning. In more severe cases it can even contribute to “depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness,” says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The researchers concede their study is not entirely comprehensive, as it limited its scope to incarceration in federal prisons, but the team says the study contributes “to emerging research suggesting traumatic brain injury is an important risk factor for involvement with the criminal justice system.”
In fact, Dr. Flora Matheson, of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, suggests the matter may be even worse than indicated by their research. “This may be just the tip of the iceberg as our study focused only on people with more serious TBI.”
More research would have to be done to see how consistently the findings are