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Relationship Between Head Injury and Violent Offending in Juvenile Detainees

NCJ Number
Dianna T. Kenny; C. L. Lennings
Date Published
March 2007
16 pages
This paper examines the relationship between head injury and different levels of violent offending in juvenile detainees in New South Wales (NSW) by exploring the association between self-reported history of head injury and other factors frequently associated with violence to determine their relationship with violent offending.
Consistent with research on adult offenders, this study found a significant relationship between head injury and participation in severe violent crime in incarcerated juvenile offenders. The most common causes of head injuries were fights (43.5 percent) followed by sport (29.4 percent). The research suggests that the relationship between head injury and violent crime is driven by the disinhibition of impulse that severe head injury is likely to cause and that this disinhibition is exacerbated by alcohol use. These findings have implications with respect to how the court might deal with such offenders and how the criminal justice system addresses the issues of incarceration, treatment, and protection of the community. Additional research should followup violent young offenders with a history of head injury to assess recidivism of violent offending and other offending to determine the level of risk these young offenders pose to the community. The development of impulse control programs for such young offenders and treatment leading to abstinence from alcohol are suggested preventive strategies. Recent research has explored the possible organic substrate of violence and interactions between biological, neurological and social factors that may be associated with violent offending. Various studies have documented abnormalities in the brain function of criminals. For example, following injuries to the frontal lobe subjects displayed more frequent aggressive and violent behavior. This study reports the incidence of head injury and other risk factors (substance abuse, physical abuse and neglect, intellectual functioning and learning disability, and cultural) and their association with severe violent offending in 242 juvenile detainees in the custody of the New South Wales Department of Juvenile Justice from January to March 2003. Tables, figures, references