Traumatic brain injuries can lead to problems in attention, memory and behaviour.

Exeter study inspires new brain injuries interest group

Research by a University of Exeter psychologist has inspired a group of charities and pressure groups to establish a new consortium, focused on the effects of brain injuries.

Up to two thirds of young offenders may be in prison because of failures to recognise that they have an acquired brain injury, a coalition of health and justice groups claims.

That claim is made by a new consortium of charities and pressure groups working in the fields of justice and health.

They point out that acquired brain injury (ABI) may lead to sufferers being impulsive, having behaviour problems, a lack of awareness of the consequences of their actions and, in some cases, being easily led.

These symptoms are the hidden aspects of ABI and may lead some young people into offending behaviour.  But a vigilant awareness and recognition of those symptoms, even in the early stages of education, could avoid the sufferer being drawn into offending behaviour and criminality.

It is estimated that a million people every year may suffer the kind of brain injury which can affect their behaviour and personality, half of whom are young people, yet much ABI remains misdiagnosed or often not recognised. But recent research suggests that the anti-social behaviour which led to conviction may have been partly a result of acquiring a brain injury, rather than simply being a criminal tendency.

International research has found that up to 65% of offenders had previously acquired the kind of brain injury which could be expected to lead to a change in personality and behaviour, and an impulsiveness which may lead to anti-social traits.

Now, further research by the University of Exeter among young offenders in this country supports those findings. It found that up to 60% of young offenders between 11 and 19 had apparently suffered from a previous traumatic brain injury.  Nearly half have suffered a loss of consciousness, which can be linked to cognitive or behaviour problems.

"We can’t know whether the brain injury caused criminal behaviour," said Huw Williams, associate professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Exeter, who carried out the research. "It may be coincidental that the same risk factors are there for both offending and ABI, such as risk taking and impulsive behaviour, but brain injury may contribute to behavioural problems."

This research has inspired a new interest group, which includes the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Reform Trust. They have been brought together by a leading charity working in the field, the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT). The consortium, called the Criminal Justice and Acquired Brain Injury Interest Group, will campaign for greater awareness of ABI among politicians, health, education and criminal justice professionals. It will also support better training and work towards raising awareness and providing support for offenders suffering acquired brain injury.

"The problem is that much acquired brain injury simply isn’t diagnosed," explained Lisa Turan, chief executive of CBIT. "Early intervention and the proper assessment of a young person’s neurological as well as their educational and developmental needs is essential. ABI can lead to all sorts of ‘hidden’ difficulties, such as perception, insight and consequential awareness.

"We are determined to ensure that these young people have the same life chances as those of their peers, and in doing so we hope to see changes in the way assessments are carried out throughout a young person’s development."

The campaign is launched in the committee rooms of the House of Lords at 10.30am on 29 November. It is being sponsored by Lord Michael Hastings of Scarisbrook.

Date: 29 November 2011

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