Kids with Head Injuries More Likely to Be Involved with Criminal Justice System

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Joseph A Schwartz PhD Public Affairs and Community Service, Criminology and Criminal Justice University of Nebraska Omaha, 6001 Dodge Street, Omaha, NE

Dr. Schwartz

Dr. Joseph A Schwartz PhD
Public Affairs and
Community Service, Criminology and Criminal Justice
University of Nebraska Omaha, Omaha, NE 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: My larger research agenda is focused on identifying the ways in which environmental and biological influences work collectively to shape behavioral patterns across major stages of the life course. I am particularly interested in identifying environmental influences that can change biological functioning or activity to result in behavioral change.

Brain injury was a natural progression of these interests since brain injury is expected to result in changes in the structure and functioning of the brain, which has been linked to meaningful changes in behavior. There have also been a sizable number of studies that indicate that justice involved populations experience brain injury at a rate that is between five and eight times what is observed in the general population. I was fascinated by this finding and thought that brain injury may be a good candidate influence to investigate further.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: Parents need to be aware of the potential behavioral and cognitive consequences of sustaining a head injury. Parents are the first line of defense for their children and making them more aware of these dangers may not only promote prevention but may also result in more effective intervention after an injury occurs. While the evidence is still developing, it does appear that there are some forms of intervention that are successful in minimizing the behavioral and cognitive consequences of brain injury. These interventions can only be successful if implemented properly and adequate after care is provided. Since parents have the greatest amount of contact with their children, they would be the best candidates to ensure such measures are taken. In addition, the brain experiences a period of heightened sensitivity following an injury, magnifying the effect of any additional insults sustained during this period of time. In this way, parents are important in ensuring that teachers, coaches, peers, and others are aware of this and enforcing boundaries that limit the likelihood of sustaining an additional injury during this time.

My findings indicate that youth who sustain a brain injury are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system, which, in turn means that police officers, corrections officers, as well as probation and parole officers are all more likely to come into contact with someone who has sustained a brain injury. Understanding the cognitive and behavioral difficulties that such individuals endure may not only result in better rapport but would also assist practitioners in anticipating the unique challenges such individuals experience and ensuring that appropriate treatment options are available.

Finally, understanding the ways in which brain injury may contribute to criminogenic risk and needs may provide similar improvements. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: The next step is to examine the impact of brain injury in more specialized correctional settings and interactions with law enforcement. I’m planning on examining the role of brain injury in the frequency and variety of misconduct reports during incarceration. This research will be aimed at better understanding the challenges that inmates with head injuries face and how these challenges are projected on to the correctional facilities in which they are housed and the officers in which they interact on a daily basis. I’m also interested in identifying and evaluating interventions aimed at minimizing the impact of brain injuries on cognitive functioning and behavior problems, particularly in correctional settings. If brain injury is an important, potent, and pervasive source of risk, providing tools in the form of intervention programming is a necessary next step in assisting inmates and creating a more functional criminal justice system.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: I hope that these findings will be used to better understand the desistance process and the experiences that ultimately contribute to criminal persistence. I also hope these findings will be used to implement effective prevention and treatment strategies that minimize the challenges that victims of brain injury experience resulting in increases in overall wellbeing. By addressing these issues more comprehensively and promoting normative desistance patterns, I also hope that these findings will prevent victimization experiences.


“A Longitudinal Assessment of Head Injuries as a Source of Acquired Neuropsychological Deficits and the Implications for Criminal Persistence”. Joseph A. Schwartz. Justice Quarterly 10, Article number 1917 (2019). doi:10.1080/07418825.2019.1599044 

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Last Updated on April 29, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD