Crime and Traumatic Brain Injury: Causal Links and Interventions


Huw Williams


Nathan Hughes
James Tonks
Mark Linden
Mathilde Chevignard


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults. TBI poses major global health and social challenges. Of particular concern, there is increased evidence of TBI being associated with later criminal behaviour. Children with TBI are likely to go enter the criminal justice and TBI is very high in offender groups. TBI in offenders is linked to psychiatric disturbance – particularly self-harm - and behavioural problems, such as aggression and violence.

The evidence base is complex, and there is a scarcity of evidence regarding: variation in prevalence by sociodemographic characteristics; the prevalence or impact of repeat experiences of TBI; and experiences of comorbidity of TBI and other developmental and mental health difficulties.

Those with social disadvantage who experience a TBI are at increased risk of worst outcomes – a double hazard. We will present work showing how, of particular concern, there is a high number of young people with moderate to severe TBI symptoms who present with suicide risk factors. And that these young people often have with a history of abuse or neglect. Indeed, the high rate of TBI and psychopathology relates to shared risk factors, as the lives of these young people are often characterised by attachment difficulties, trauma, familial psychopathology and disadvantage. TBI factors thus appear to magnify these issues, and increase chances of poor emotional regulation.

We argue that screening for, and managing, the effects of TBI more broadly in society to enable children with TBI to stay in school and for innovative approaches for integrating forensic and neuro- rehabilitation young offenders in community and secure systems to improve their, and wider society’s outcomes. Data will be presented om emotion processing as related to crime in young people who offend with TBI (M. Cohen). We also provide a health economic analysis of large scale population data to indicate cost savings for such changes.

There are initiatives that allow mens to address these issues. Traditional approaches that are offered to young people in the criminal justice system will be discussed in relation to young people with aggressive and antisocial behaviour and Case vignettes will be used to illustrate how some of the models can be developed for working with young offenders with traumatic brain injury and the difficulties that this group might face.


Learning Objectives:

  1. Produce a summary of the links between TBI and Crime. 
  2. Apply learning in neuro-rehabilitation approaches to reduce risk of crime.
  3. Improve systems and services to take account of TBI issues in vulnerable young people.