Brain injury and the criminal justice system

 

Summary

Background

Research carried out by the University of Glasgow has found a “significant association” between head injury and alcohol use, social deprivation and crime. That same research acknowledged that:

  • further research is needed on the epidemiology of head injury in Scottish prisons and to understand relationships between head injury and crime;
  • there is a need to provide education and training about head injury to prison NHS services and to prisoners; and
  • there is a need to link prison NHS and forensic psychology services to NHS brain injury services.

The report, Repairing Shattered Lives: Brain injury and its implications for criminal justice, authored by Professor Huw Williams and published in 2012, made a series of recommendations for service commissioners and providers in the health and criminal justice sectors as to how they should work together to respond appropriately, ensuring that acquired brain injuries are picked up early, treated effectively, and taken into account throughout the criminal justice process.

Round-table evidence session

The Committee agreed to explore these issues further through a round table evidence session on 12 August 2014. The session allowed the Committee to hear more about the research that has been carried out into the link between brain injury and the criminal justice system and to ask questions of academics and practitioners about the implications for public policy and practice within the criminal justice system of the research findings. It also allowed participants to debate these issues with each other. In advance of the session, participants were asked to consider the following questions:

  • What awareness there is currently of brain injury in the criminal justice system?
  • What scope is there for future training about head injury to prison NHS services and prisoners?
  • What action should policy makers take in response to research carried out by the University of Glasgow which found a “significant association” between head injury and alcohol use, social deprivation and crime? What are the implications of this research in respect of service providers approach to (a) rehabilitation and (b) prevention?
  • How joined up is provision for prisoners who may have suffered head injuries at some point in their lives? To what extent, if at all, do criminal justice agencies and others work together to identify and mitigate the individual and societal effects the high incidence of brain injury has in the criminal justice system? Have there been changes following the transfer of prison healthcare to the NHS?
  • Whether there is a need for further research on the epidemiology of head injury in Scottish prisons and to understand relationships between head injury and crime?
  • To what extent is brain injury taken into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing?

After the session the Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government highlighting the main points raised and to invite it to respond.

Correspondence

Further action

At its meeting on 9 December 2014 the Committee considered the response from the Scottish Government and agreed to return to this topic after the Brain Injury and Offending work-stream of the National Prisoner Healthcare Network has reported in summer 2015. 

 
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