Almost 80% of women inmates ‘have had significant head injuries’

University of Glasgow-led study found 66% of female inmates had suffered repeat head injuries for many years.

Almost 80% of women inmates ‘have had significant head injuries’ iStock
Domestic violence was cited as the most common cause of head injuries among female prisoners.

Almost 80% of female prisoners in Scotland have a history of significant head injury which mostly happened through domestic abuse, according to research.

The University of Glasgow-led study – funded by the Scottish Government and published in the Lancet Psychiatry – also found 66% of female inmates had suffered repeat head injuries for many years.

Domestic violence was the most common cause, reported by 89% of the participants who also reported repeat head injuries.

The majority of participants were from the most deprived population quintile.

Professor Tom McMillan, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Glasgow and lead author of the study, said: “It is already recognised that women in prison are vulnerable because of histories of abuse and substance misuse.

“However, this research shows that a history of significant head injury is also a vulnerability and needs to be included when considering mental health needs and in developing criminal justice policy given the relationships with associated disabilities, abuse and violent crime.

“Our findings suggest that interventions to reduce mental health morbidity, and assessment and management of risk of violent offending should include history of significant head injury.

“There is a need to recognise these vulnerabilities at an early stage, including at the first contact with the criminal justice system, to assess these women and provide long term support.”

Only five women reported experiencing a single incident moderate-severe head injury, without multiple, mild head injuries in addition.

Of those with a history of significant head injury, a first head injury before the age of 15 was reported by 69% of women.

Researchers also found that violent criminal behaviour was three times more likely in those with a history of significant head injury, and that women with a significant head injury had spent three times longer in prison.

Almost all participants in the study, 95%, reported a history of abuse, with more than half reporting sexual abuse in childhood and 46% reporting sexual abuse in adulthood.