One in four Scots prisoners have suffered traumatic brain injury, study finds

The study, a joint venture by the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Prison Service, looked at all the country's inmates along with electronic records of hospital admissions. Picture: PA
The study, a joint venture by the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Prison Service, looked at all the country's inmates along with electronic records of hospital admissions. Picture: PA
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A quarter of inmates in Scotland’s jails have been hospitalised with a head injury at some point in their lives, according to new research.

A study by Glasgow University in collaboration with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) analysed the medical records of prisoners under the age of 35 to establish whether they were more at risk of having a brain injury than the general population.

It found the prevalence of hospital admissions was high in prisoners (25 per cent), and higher than in the general population from similar backgrounds (18 per cent). Having three or more hospitalised head injuries was also more common in prisoners, who were more likely to have intracranial injuries more serious than concussion.

The study, which has been published in the journal PLOS ONE, also estimates that 10 per cent of prisoners have suffered a severe head injury in their lives, or multiple head injuries that are likely to lead to a persistent disability.

There is growing evidence that associates traumatic brain injuries with offending.

A previous report by the NHS and SPS said head injuries most commonly caused by falls and assaults had been shown to lead to “violence, aggression and emotional deregulation”.

Tom McMillan, professor of clinical neuropsychology at Glasgow University, said: “It is accepted that there is a need to understand head injury in prisoners in order to plan interventions to reduce associated disability and risk of reoffending.

“This study demonstrates just how prevalent serious head injury is in prisoners in Scotland.

“And this, combined with the knowledge we have regarding the effects of serious head 
injury on behaviour and personality, suggests further research and work is needed to support these prisoners and potentially stop them reoffending.”

Traumatic brain injury can result in persisting emotional and personality changes including impulsiveness, poorer judgment, aggression and poorer control of temper.

Cognitive impairment is also linked with reduced concentration, poorer memory and greater difficulty in solving problems.

Previous studies have also suggested that tolerance to alcohol could be reduced after a head injury, with alcohol likely to worsen the neuro-behavioural effects of the injury.

Professor McMillan added: “Our programme is working towards development of education and training media for staff and prisoners about head injury and its effects.

“This will help prisoners who are at risk of further head injury, and help staff to identify and manage prisoners with head injury.”