Domestic Abuse Head Injuries Prevalent Among Women in Prison, Study Finds

An international study has found that four out of five women in prison in Scotland have a history of head injury, mostly sustained through domestic violence.

May 17, 2021

An international study has found that four out of five women in prison in Scotland have a history of head injury, mostly sustained through domestic violence. Published recently in The Lancet, researchers, including Simon Fraser University psychology graduate student Hira Aslam, say the study has important implications for the female prison population more broadly and could help to inform mental health and criminal justice policy development.

“The findings are incredibly sobering,” says Aslam. “While we anticipated that the incidence of head injuries among women who are involved in the criminal justice system would be high, these estimates exceeded our expectations.”

Researchers also found that violent criminal behaviour was three times more likely among women who had a history of significant head injury, while women who sustained such injuries generally had prison sentences that were three times longer. Two-thirds were found to have suffered repeated head injuries, and nearly all reported a history of abuse.

Aslam, the study’s second author who led the interviews and assessments with offenders, says expanding the study to Canadian and other prison populations would be a critical next step. She can talk about the impact of trauma, head injury and the overall vulnerability of female offenders in the study sample.

“The relationship between head trauma and both violent crime and length of incarceration suggests that this may be an important consideration in the assessment and management of violent offending, as well as in reducing the risk for reoffending,” says Aslam. “There is a need to consider these vulnerability factors in Canada and elsewhere in developing appropriate policy and interventions for this population.”

The study, carried out by the University of Glasgow, was funded by the Scottish government and the National Prisoner Healthcare Network.

Aslam previously earned a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford and is currently a clinical forensic psychology graduate student in SFU’s Mental Health, Law, and Policy Institute, working with SFU professor Stephen Har

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