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The relationship between early childhood head injury and later life criminal behaviour: a longitudinal cohort study
  1. Tracy L Jackson1,
  2. Joseph M Braun1,
  3. Michael Mello2,3,
  4. Elizabeth W Triche1,4,
  5. Stephen L Buka1
  1. 1 Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
  2. 2 Injury Prevention Center, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
  3. 3 Department of Emergency Medicine, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
  4. 4 Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Tracy L Jackson, Department of Epidemiology, Brown University, 121 South Main St, Providence, RI 02919, USA; Tracy_Jackson{at}


Background Childhood head injury has been associated with the development of behavioural and psychological problems. This study examined the relationship between head injury in young childhood and subsequent criminal behaviour.

Methods Data were from the Providence cohort of the Collaborative Perinatal Project, a multicentre longitudinal study aimed at identifying the role of perinatal and prenatal factors on child health. History of head injury between ages 0 and 7 years was ascertained from health records of 2893 children. In total, 120 (4%) of children had a head injury. Propensity score matching was used to match each head injury case to five controls. Negative binomial regression was used to estimate the relationship between head injury and number of arrests, and log binomial regression was used to estimate risk of conduct problems.

Results Those who suffered any head injury from ages 0 to 7 years had approximately 1.5 times the rate of arrests and risk of conduct problems compared with uninjured controls, though results did not meet the p<0.05 threshold for statistical significance. Severe head injury was associated with a twofold increased rate of juvenile arrests (incident rate ratio=2.44, 95% CI 0.93 to 6.46) and risk of conduct problems (risk ratio=2.47, 95% CI 0.90 to 6.74) that approached statistical significance.

Conclusions Head injury in childhood was associated with increased criminality and conduct problems. Future work should identify mechanisms of this association in order to develop interventions to prevent criminal behaviour resulting from head injury.

  • injuries
  • child health
  • mental health
  • neuroepidemiology

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  • Contributors TLJ conceptualised study idea, conducted the analysis and was the primary author of the manuscript. SLB helped conceptualise the study plan and assisted in drafting and review of the manuscript. JMB, MM and EWT aided in developing the study plan and drafting and editing the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Brown University IRB.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.