29 May

Brain injury and the link to perpetrators of domestic violence  

Inadequate Rehabilitation  

Currently,  82% of the male prison population in Australia reported at least one past  brain injury with persisting side-effects (1). When we consider this statistic, it is shocking that there is no system in place to address and assess/screen individuals for brain injury when they enter the criminal justice system – particularly those arrested and charged with domestic violence offences – to determine their best path through rehabilitation and back into society. 

The current justice system fails to recognise the significant link between domestic violence of both perpetrators, victim survivors, and brain injury. In fact, individuals are dealt with, as if they don’t have a brain injury – which leads to inadequate rehabilitation and recovery outcomes for people impacted by brain injury as victim survivors or perpetrators of violence. We know that being a victim of domestic violence is a significant cause of brain injury in our country, and the current method of rehabilitation provided to perpetrators with a brain injury does not provide favourable outcomes for anyone involved. Discussions of perpetrators with a brain injury being accountable for their actions are quite inadequate – and a fruitless exercise often – where the impact of brain injury may frequently lead to escalated levels of violence, impaired impulse control, difficulty linking cause and effect and lack of insight amongst multiple other complications.  

Individuals with a brain injury may often struggle with laying down new memories, retaining information, learning and have poor recall. Because of these factors individuals with a brain injury may often struggle with behaviour change– regardless of the significant consequences they might face – individuals with a brain injury require a different approach to domestic violence rehabilitation and education. It should be stated that not all domestic violence perpetrators live with a brain injury and that many people living with a brain injury will not commit actions of domestic violence. 


The current system misses them 

Currently, the narrative around rehabilitating violent individuals continues to reinforce violence as an issue that can be changed through a perpetrator taking accountability for their behaviour and impact on others. What this narrative neglects is that perpetrators of domestic violence with a brain injury often struggle to regulate their emotions, become angry quickly, lack impulse control and sometimes may not even remember what has occurred afterwards. Though their actions are, and without question, inexcusable, understanding the very real impact of brain injury on impulse control and emotion regulation is critical to ensuring improved safety for victims of violence and assisting rehabilitation efforts for perpetrators. 


How do we improve rehabilitation outcomes for all? 

We can never negate or excuse the significant trauma and physical harm that domestic violence perpetrators inflict. Though for behaviour change in those living with a brain injury, a different approach is required, one that can help break the cycle of violence without ignoring the science of brain injury or reducing its impact to being labelled a deliberate choice. Understanding the presence of brain injury, that is often unidentified, can enable improved measures to be taken to better affect behaviour change outcomes, one that reduces the likelihood of reoffending. Otherwise, those that live with a brain injury with heightened impulsivity and impaired decision making, will continue to offend,  continue to amplify risk to others, and continue to be incarcerated. The Synapse approach is not advocating to be soft on crime; what we do advocate for is a more evidenceinformed and outcomedriven approach. An approach that results in ensuring safer and less traumatic outcomes for all people involved, in addition, this would see lower reoffence and offender rates. The current national discussion on domestic violence is seeing Australians wake up to the reality of what is occurring across our country. But, what is missing from the discussion is the need to look deeper at what could be a greater cause for the high rates of domestic and family violence we continue to see – we need to formally address the link between brain injury and domestic violence.