The relationship between head injury and violent offending in juvenile detainees

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Release date: 14 June 2007, 10.30AM

Researchers at the University of Sydney have found a link between head injury (causing unconsciousness) and severely violent offending (eg homicide, grievous bodily harm).

Professor Dianna Kenny and Chris Lennings in the Discipline of Behavioural and Community Health Sciences at the University of Sydney examined 242 incarcerated young offenders, average age 17, 92% male and 42% Indigenous.

Thirty-five percent (35%) of the sample reported a history of significant head injury; 30% of these reported a second head injury. The most common causes of head injuries were fights (44%) and sport; recreation or misadventure (30%).

Among detainees from English speaking and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, commission of a severely violent offence was higher in offenders with a history of head injury.

More than half of those reporting a head injury reported cognitive or behavioural problems associated with the injury.

A history of head injuries was also found to be significantly associated with severe violent offending, particularly where the young offender also engaged in hazardous drinking.

Juvenile detainees most likely to commit a severely violent offence were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, had sustained a head injury and engaged in hazardous/harmful drinking.

Rates of involvement in severe violent offending where lower for Indigenous offenders than for non-Indigenous offenders. The authors point out, however, that these effects may be due to differences in the profile of Indigenous or CALD offenders entering custody. Indigenous offenders, for example, appear more likely to enter custody for repeated non-violent offences than non-Indigenous offenders.

Further enquiries: Diana Kenny: Ph. 0425 358 275, Chris Lennings. Ph. 9751 2047