Young people in custody are often suffering from neuro- developmental disorders, according to a newly published report.
Experts have carried out a review of published evidence which shows youngsters who have been in trouble with the law tend to have more of these problems than the wider population.
Researchers from the universities of Exeter and Birmingham found that young offenders were four times more likely to have a specific reading difficulty – about 43% to 57% compared to 10% of the wider population.
Many of the youngsters have a reading age below that of criminal responsibility, which is ten in England and Wales.
The vast majority of young offenders (60% to 90%) have speech and language difficulties and a quarter may have a learning disability.
Up to three in four young people who commit crimes suffer from the effects of a traumatic brain injury, such as from a direct blow to the head, penetration of the skull or traffic collision. This compares to fewer than one in four of the general population.
The review was carried out for the Office of the Children's Commissioner, which called for earlier recognition of, and vital improvements in, the treatment and support of young people with neurological conditions.
The OCC's report – Nobody Made The Connection: The prevalence of neurodisability in young people who offend – draws attention to the large numbers of young people in children's prisons in England who have neurodevelopmental difficulties, such as brain injuries, that could result in communication difficulties, cognitive delays, learning difficulties and emotional and behavioural problems.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said: "This report raises serious questions about whether significant numbers of children in the youth justice system have the ability to understand the whole process from arrest through to sentencing. Our failure to identify neurodevelopmental disorders and put in place measures to prevent young people with such conditions from offending is a tragedy.
"It affects the victims of their crimes, the children themselves, their families, the services seeking to change offenders' lives for the better, and wider society."