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Head injuries and crime: Is there need for a closer look on this?

American law holds that criminal punishment should be tightly linked with a defendant's willful decision to commit wrongdoing. It seems illogical and even indefensible to lock a person away who lacked knowledge that he or she was even doing wrong or that criminal punishment might attach to select behavior.

Culpability in sentencing decisions is routinely underscored in the American justice system. A recent in-depth article suggests, though, that sentencing's credibility is being undermined by a massive problem affecting prison populations across the country.

Namely, that is strong evidence showing that a high number of convicted defendants suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

The extent of the problem seems truly huge. More than one study concludes that at least eight out of 10 inmates nationally have a demonstrated history of head trauma.

Arguably, that should be closely looked into in every instance at an early stage of the criminal law process, and certainly before a government decision to send a diminished individual to prison.

It is not, though. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for TBI-related testing of all inmates, but only after they have already been sentenced and confined.

Calls for change strongly urge that closer attention be paid to head injuries far earlier in the process than that. One commentator notes that TBI and other forms of brain trauma "can be positively and objectively identified through CT scans."

It seems hard to reasonably argue against that, given the view of most Americans that fair play in sentencing demands a nexus between criminal activity and a knowing willfulness to engage in it.

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