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The Disabilities Trust Launches New Report: Making the Link: Female Offending and Brain Injury

The Disabilities Trust, a leading national charity, in collaboration with Royal Holloway, University of London, announced the results of the first study of its kind into brain injury in female offenders. The results of the study in which 64% of female offenders reported a history indicative of a brain injury, demonstrates the need for brain injury screening as a routine part of the assessment on entry to the probation services or prison, and for a support pathway that is delivered by Linkworkers.

The study, funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and The Pilgrim Trust, screened 173 women using the Brain Injury Screening Index, in Her Majesty’s Prison/ Young Offenders Institution (HMP/YOI) at Drake Hall, Staffordshire. The findings, published in a report entitled ‘Making the Link: Female Offending and Brain Injury’, showed that there were 196 reports of brain injuries from severe blows to the head, with 62% of the women reporting that the injury was the result of domestic violence.

It is widely acknowledged that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is over-represented in prison populations, with the likelihood of increased risk of violence, earlier age of first incarceration, and a greater number of convictions, re-conviction, mental health problems and a greater number of attempts at suicide. The needs of somebody in prison with TBI are likely to be complex, and the lack of understanding and identification of a brain injury results in a higher risk of custody and reoffending.

From 2016 to 2018, The Disabilities Trust introduced a Brain Injury Linkworker (BIL) service at HMP/YOI Drake Hall to provide specialist support to women with a history of brain injury. The Linkworkers aimed to develop a sustainable support pathway for rehabilitation, and to help offenders manage the transition between custody and the community. A female Linkworker was sensitive to the gender-specific needs of those being supported, and the women offenders experienced improved mood and self-esteem, enhanced confidence and positivity; key factors that have been previously identified as being essential for women to engage in rehabilitative programmes.

The BIL service also offered practical guidance for prison staff working with women with a brain injury and alleviated pressure from other service provision (e.g. mental health). The service provides a strong framework which benefits offenders and staff in prisons to identify and manage brain injury.

Irene Sobowale, Chief Executive, The Disabilities Trust said: “The personalised service we have developed supports women dealing with the impact of their brain injuries. Independent evaluation from the Royal Holloway University London agrees

that our Linkworker service within HMP/YOI Drake Hall recognised the gender specific needs of women. There is much more work to be done to ensure that women with a brain injury are provided with effective support to ensure that they can engage in rehabilitation programmes and reduce the likelihood of reoffending. The Disabilities Trust looks forward to working with partners and Government to achieve this.”

Dr Emily Glorney, Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, Royal Holloway, University of London said: “If an aim of sending women to prison is to reduce risk of future offending, it is difficult to think how this can be addressed unless we also pay attention to the circumstances that brought these women to prison, and their experiences of imprisonment. A Brain Injury Linkworker service provides a strong framework to support such an aim.”

As a result of these findings The Disabilities Trust calls for:

  • The inclusion of brain injury screening as a routine part of the induction assessment on entry to prison or probation services
  • All prison and probation staff to receive basic brain injury awareness training
  • The provision of brain injury support; similar to the BIL, in prisons and probation settings
  • Assurance that brain injury support would be aligned with gender-informed practice
  • Further research to be conducted to examine the potential effect of brain injury on re-offending behaviour, how effective neurorehabilitation can contribute towards the reduction of recidivism and the role of early intervention approaches

A copy of the report ‘Making the Link: Female Offending and Brain Injury’ is available: www.thedtgroup.org

Commenting on the report, Andrew Bateman UKABIF Chair said: “This study further supports the recommendations announced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Acquired Brain Injury in its report launch last October entitled ‘Time for Change: Acquired Brain Injury and Neurorehabilitation’. UKABIF continues to call for changes in criminal justice procedures, practices and processes to take into account the needs of individuals with Acquired Brain Injury. Screening at the point of entry into the system and support services are much-needed changes”.