Call for screening as women tell study their injuries were caused by domestic violence
Nearly 65% of prisoners at a women’s jail may have suffered traumatic brain injuries at some point in their lives, a study has found.
Research by the Disabilities Trust and Royal Holloway, University of London, found that of the 173 women screened at Drake Hall prison in Staffordshire answering questions about blows to the head, 64% gave answers consistent with having symptoms of a brain injury. The symptoms of 96% of the women suggested that these arose from physical trauma.
The work adds to a growing body of research on the over-representation of people with brain injuries in the prison population. In 2012, a university of Exeter report described traumatic brain injury as a “silent epidemic”. In 2010 a study of 200 adult male prisoners found 60% had suffered a head injury.
Research has suggested that traumatic brain injury (TBI) could increase the likelihood of violent behaviour, criminal convictions, mental health problems and suicide attempts.
“The needs of somebody in prison with TBI are likely to be complex, and the lack of understanding and identification of a brain injury results in a higher risk of custody and reoffending,” said the Disabilities Trust.
As part of its research, the trust established a Brain Injury Linkworker Service in the prison to provide specialist support to women with a history of brain injury. 62% of the women supported through the service said they had sustained their brain injury through domestic violence.
Nearly half (47%) of the women had been in an adult prison five or more times. The statistics revealed that 33% had sustained their first injury prior to their first offence.
The Disabilities Trust called for the inclusion of brain injury screening to be a routine part of the induction assessment on entry to prison or probation services, and for staff to be given basic brain injury awareness training.
Irene Sobowale, chief executive of the Disabilities Trust, said the study built on over five years of research into male offenders and brain injury. “For the first time in the UK, we have considered the specific needs and experiences of female offenders, who are some of the most vulnerable in the criminal justice system,” she said.
“There is much more work to be done to ensure that women with a brain injury are provided with effective support to ensure that they can engage in rehabilitation programmes and reduce the likelihood of reoffending. The Disabilities Trust looks forward to working with partners and government to achieve this.”.