The study, conducted by the University of Glasgow, discovered two thirds of female inmates had sustained repeated wounds to the head over a period of many years.
Head injuries can have long-lasting repercussions on an individual’s cognition and behaviour as well as making people less able to cope with feelings of anger.
Researchers, whose findings were published in the Lancet Psychiatry, found most incidents had been perpetrated by domestic abusers, with around nine in ten prisoners who were subjected to recurrent head injuries saying it was the result of domestic violence.
Violent criminal behaviour was three times more likely in people who have previously suffered significant head wounds and women with such injuries spent three times longer in jail, the study discovered.
Professor Tom McMillan, the study’s lead author who works in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Glasgow, said: “It is already recognised that women in prison are vulnerable because of histories of abuse and substance misuse.
“However, this research shows that a history of significant head injury is also a vulnerability and needs to be included when considering mental health needs and in developing criminal justice policy given the relationships with associated disabilities, abuse and violent crime.
“Our findings suggest that interventions to reduce mental health morbidity, and assessment and management of risk of violent offending should include history of significant head injury. There is a need to recognise these vulnerabilities at an early stage, including at the first contact with the criminal justice system, to assess these women and provide long term support.”
The study was based on interviews with roughly a quarter of women in Scottish prisons which amounted to 109 women. Around seven in ten of those who had “a history of significant head injury” suffered their first wound before they were 15. Researchers noted head injuries sustained in children can impinge on how the brain grows.
It comes after The Independent previously reported brain injuries suffered at the hands of a violent partner could be leading women prisoners to commit more crimes.
The study, conducted by The Disabilities Trust and Royal Holloway University, discovered 64 per cent of incarcerated women had experiences or symptoms linked to brain injuries.
Rachael Mcnulty, the clinical supervisor for the study, said: “The brain does everything. If at some point your brain is disrupted, it has an effect on all elements of your life. People may be more prone to being impulsive and have less emotional resources to deal with anxiety or anger.
“The research clearly demonstrates the link between life trauma and offending, violence, and victimisation. It showed women with brain injuries were more vulnerable and had more mental health issues.”
A previous report by the Prison Reform Trust found 80 per cent of women in jail were serving sentences for non-violent offences. Other studies have found high numbers of female prisoners have suffered domestic abuse, while many suffer from mental health issues - with campaigners frequently warning women in prison are often victims of much more serious offences than the ones they have been convicted of.