A traumatic brain injury may be linked to a young adult’s higher chances of ending up in jail, a new Canadian study suggests.
“These findings contribute to emerging research suggesting traumatic brain injury is an important risk factor for involvement with the criminal justice system,” said lead author Dr. Flora Matheson, of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“This may be just the tip of the iceberg as our study focused only on people with more serious [traumatic brain injury],” she said in a hospital news release. “We also did not include people who may have served time in provincial, rather than federal jails.”
Matheson’s team analyzed data gathered from nearly 1.4 million Canadians, aged 18 to 28, from 1997 through 2011. This age group was chosen because it has an increased risk of severe brain injury and involvement in the criminal justice system, the researchers said.
Brain injuries are usually caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or, less frequently, an object penetrating the skull. A concussion is often said to be a mild traumatic brain injury.
During the study period, 0.5 percent of those with a history of traumatic brain injury ended up in federal prison. That was more than twice the rate of 0.2 percent among those with no history of traumatic brain injury, according to the study.
The researchers emphasized, however, that the overall risk of jail for someone with a history of severe brain injury was low, at less than five in 1,000. And the study shows only an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.
Still, the researchers said knowing of this connection may help health care providers better identify people at risk for prison and provide better care for people within the prison system.
Matheson also said that rather than suggesting that brain injury causes people to be jailed, the study highlights the fact that many people in prison may have a potentially serious health issue.
The results were published online Dec. 8 in the journal CMAJ Open.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on traumatic brain injury.