Traumatic brain injury costs a total of £15 billion nationally every year and puts young people at higher risk of poor mental health and offending, according to research published today by Centre for Mental Health.

Traumatic Brain Injury and offending: an economic analysis finds that head injuries (in which the brain is damaged by impact, such as from a fall, a road accident or violence) double a person’s risk of later mental illness. These injuries dramatically increase the risk of earlier death, and can play a significant role in increasing the risk of future offending - by up to 50% according to some studies.

The report is funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which also supported an evaluation of the Disabilities Trust’s brain injury linkworker service at a young offender institution as part of its Transition to Adulthood (T2A) programme, also launched today.

Traumatic brain injuries cause about 160,000 people to be admitted to hospital in the UK each year, and about 1.3 million people are living with disabilities resulting from these injuries. Injuries at a young age can result in serious and long-term impairments in brain development.

The economic cost of head injuries is £15 billion a year. This figure includes the costs of lost work, of health and social care and of premature mortality.

An estimated 60% of adult offenders in the UK have had a traumatic brain injury, six times higher than the rate among the wider population.

Traumatic Brain Injury and offending finds that the long-term cost of head injury in a young offender is some £440,000.

Lord Ramsbotham, a Vice President of Centre for Mental Health, said: “Head injuries are very common, very serious, and can cause persistent problems. They are the biggest cause of death and disability in young people today worldwide. The costs of head injuries are too high to be ignored and the consequences too serious to be neglected.”

The costs of head injuries are too high to be ignored and the consequences too serious to be neglected

The evaluation of the Brain Injury Linkworker Service identifies ways in which young people in custody can be helped to rehabilitate more effectively. The linkworker scheme was found to help young people in custody who have sustained head injuries, as well as families and staff members. It finds that young people valued having someone to talk to, help understanding their condition and practical support from avoiding fights to getting work.

Deborah Fortescue from the Disabilities Trust said: “The prevalence of brain injury within the criminal justice system should no longer be ignored. We have a great opportunity to think differently; we must screen for brain injury throughout the criminal justice system, train staff to address their needs and embed specialist services. Ultimately we need to understand the pathways to crime, so that we can learn which of the multiple factors and circumstances appear to support positive outcomes for those people who have a brain injury, but never come into contact with the criminal justice system.”

Dr Debbie Pippard, Head of Programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust and Vice-Chair of the T2A Alliance, said: “Barrow Cadbury Trust is pleased to support these important contributions to the evidence base. It’s clear that brain injury is a major factor in the lives of many young people who commit crime, and that, with the right support, they can turn their lives around. In order to protect the public and make best use of public money, it’s in the interest of all criminal justice agencies to become more proficient at identifying brain injury and findings ways to support rehabilitation.”

Prof Huw Williams of the University of Exeter, adds: “Across the world children and young people with traumatic brain injuries are failed by their societies and end up in prisons - at very high cost. But imprisoning young people with traumatic brain injuries seems to make matters worse, putting them at a higher risk of suicide and violence. There are many practical, low cost, ways to manage the effects of a head injury. It’s vital that children and young people affected are helped to mature, and take their place in society. Any government that seeks a humane approach towards vulnerable people, and fiscally sound policies, should take notice, and act in all our best interests”.

See more about the report here.