Children with learning disabilities
and the criminal justice system
Children and the criminal justice
What I will cover:
About the Prison Reform Trust and the
Out of Trouble programme
Children with learning disabilities and the criminal
– Policy context
– And the criminal courts
– New research involving YOT staff, early findings
– What can we do now?
Policy context – criminal justice:
Youth Crime Action Plan (HM Government, 2008 and 2009)
The Bradley Report (DH, 2009)
National delivery plan: Improving health, supporting justice
(HM Government, 2009)
Overarching principles – sentencing youths (SGC, 2009)
Healthy Children, Safer Communities (HM Government, 2009).
23% of young offenders have an IQ less than 70; 36%, 70-79
and 23%, 80-89
25% have special educational needs identified; 19% with a
statement (Harrington and Bailey, 2005)
46% are rated as underachieving at school (YJB, 2006)
60% have communication difficulties that will affect their ability
to understand certain words and to express themselves (Bryan,
Review of court provision:
in the criminal courts:
a review of provision for
adults and children.
What do we mean by vulnerable?
All children in the criminal justice system are
presumed vulnerable by nature of their
young age and developmental immaturity.
Many are doubly vulnerable: that is they are
disadvantaged also because they experience
a range of impairments and emotional
What young defendants said:
You cannot talk in court. Even if you have something
really important to say, speaking is against the rules.
No-one said you could ask a question. Because I
was told to say ‘no comment at the police station I
thought I couldn’t say anything in court.
You want to talk and you can’t. I wanted to speak
because I hadn’t done [the offence] but I was told to
sit down when I tried to stand up. There should be a
time for us to speak. Trying to interrupt is too difficult.
What young vulnerable adult
I don’t know, I couldn’t really hear. I couldn’t
understand, but I said ‘yes, whatever’ to
anything because if I say I don’t know, they
look at me as if I’m thick. Sometimes they tell
you two things at once.
The judges don’t speak English; they say
these long words that I have never heard of
in my life.
YOI, head of health care:
On speaking with a young person who had just come
into the establishment, he told me that he couldn’t
understand why he had come to prison. ‘When the
judge asked me, Miss, if I was remorseful, I said
“no”, and then he told me I was coming here.’ This
young man had not heard that word before. He also
said that he didn’t have much idea what was going
on in court and didn’t understand what people were
saying although he knew they were talking about
YOI, head of residence:
Recently we had a prisoner from x prison, which is
about as far away as you can get, who had learning
difficulties and was frightened of travelling in cars – I
think his foster carer had been killed in a car crash.
He arrived in a category A van with his action man
and Lego. Whilst he remained a threat to staff he
was treated with kindness and patience. Staff
brought him in children’s toys and played with him
like a child. I am sure it made no difference to his
long-term outlook but it enabled him to be managed
safely and humanely… I believe he is now in a
Identifying support needs:
First identify the difficulty/impairment – but how and who?
– ‘…physical health problems are often overlooked and the
rate of mental health problems underestimated…’
– Specialized tools ‘do not assess for learning disability, for
speech, language and communication needs, or for conduct
disorder.’ (HM Government, 2010)
Case of SC v UK (2004)
Case of R(TP) v West London Youth Court (2005)
Disability Discrimination Act (2005)
Right to a fair trial.
Significant progress in youth courts:
– Youth Court Good Practice Guide, 2001
– 2006 amendment of ‘special measures’ provision in the
YJCE Act 1999
– Lord Chief Justice practice direction, 2007
– Availability of an intermediary for defendants: Coroners and
Justice Act; (R on the application of C) v Sevenoaks Youth
But more needs to be done…
Main findings and recommendations:
All courts should have access to liaison and
diversion schemes (SCMH pilots)
Parity in the treatment of child witnesses and child
Young defendants pack
Training for all professionals working with child
YOT staff views on the proportions of young people
with learning disabilities and communication
Research findings : Higher About Lower Don’t
% % % %
About one in four, or 23% of young 12 55 20 13
offenders have very low IQs of less
than 70 (possible learning
Over half, or 60% have 12 53 27 8
Information from children’s services:
– 51% said ‘yes’; 37% said ‘sometimes’
Screening or assessment tools or
– 37% said ‘yes’ for learning disabilities or low IQ
– 36% for communication difficulties.
ASSET; what respondents said:
– ASSET questions are used to determine learning
– Whilst we do not use any tools specifically for
education or communication problems, these would be
identified through ASSET.
– ASSET looks at all these factors and advises the best
type of intervention.
Specialist staff and services:
Mental health worker:
– 78% said their YOT had a mental health worker
– Of this group, 20% said their MH worker had learning
– 36% said their YOT had access to; half didn’t know.
Community learning disability services:
– 45% (of 148) said ‘yes, but...’; 30% didn’t know.
Training and support:
Disability awareness training: 44% (of 140)
said ‘yes’; of which:
– 49% said learning disabilities were included
– 31% said communication difficulties were.
Further training and support:
How to identify particular disabilities and difficulties in young people –
for example increased understanding of presenting behaviours and
what to look for
Ways in which particular disabilities and difficulties can affect
behaviour, which in turn might lead to offending
How to work with and support young people with particular disabilities
Input into training from specialist staff
Understanding the roles of specialist staff and how to access specialist
support in their YOT area.
Statistics, record keeping and the
Responsible staff member? 12% (of 135) said
Any statistics? 12% said ‘yes’ (but only two
respondents able to say what proportion of young people with
disabilities there were at their YOT: 35% and 0%).
Disability equality scheme or action plan? 12%
Levels of confidence:
Levels of confidence: ‘very confident’ and ‘quite
confident’ (136 respondents):
My YOT has the skills and Pre-sentence reports
expertise or ready access adequately address
to them implications for informed
decision making by the
Young people with learning 56 71
disabilities or low IQ
Young people with 43 54
More or less likely to receive a
YOT staff views on whether young people were
more likely or less likely to receive a custodial
sentence (119 respondents):
More likely Less likely No difference
% % %
Young people with learning 59 17 24
disabilities or low IQ
Young people with communication 53 9 38
What can we do now?
Learning disability awareness training
Referrals so we know who has a learning disability
Reasonable adjustments, adapted interventions
Collaborative multi-agency working: common
problems, shared solutions.
What can we do now?
– Awareness training
– Specialist/specific training
– Joint training