Report finds people with learning disabilities failed by the Criminal Justice System

A three year review by the Prison Reform Trust has concluded that vulnerable people are facing ‘personal, systemic and routine’ discrimination from the point of arrest through to release from prison.

Its estimated that 20-30 per cent of offenders have learning disabilities or difficulties that interfere with their ability to cope within the criminal justice system.

The report concludes that those providing leadership in the criminal justice system throughout the UK are failing in their legal duty to eliminate disability discrimination and promote equality affecting the people who need it most.

The report finds that at the police station:

  • Less than a third of vulnerable people received support from an appropriate adult during police interviews.
  • Half of those with learning disabilities said they didn’t know what would happen to them once they had been charged.
  • Some allege maltreatment by the police or felt they had been manipulated into agreeing to a police interview without support

The report also finds that in court:

  • Over a fifth interviewed didn’t understand what was going on; some didn’t know why they were in court or what they had done wrong.
  • Most said the use of simpler language in court would have helped them.

The report finds that in prison:

  • Over half said they had been scared in prison.
  • They were five times as likely as other prisoners to have been subjected to control and restraint techniques and three times more likely to have spent time in segregation.
  • They were generally uncertain about where they would go for particular help as they prepared to leave prison.

One prisoner who felt he was being manipulated by the police said:

They say to me, ‘if you want an interview we can do it now or you can wait five hours for a solicitor to come’. You don’t want to wait that long to be interviewed.

They do the same with a caution, you have to plead guilty and then you can go, but you feel pressured to plead guilty.

One woman prisoner, denied her medication, said:

When I was arrested I said I needed my medication and they left it for three days and then even when I went to court I didn’t have my medication and I was shaking and my solicitor was going mad.

The report calls for an end to the criminal justice system’s collective and unlawful failure to meet the minimum requirements of disability legislation. Its recommendations call for system-wide reform, from diversion away from the criminal justice system through to staff training, from proper assessment in police stations, courts and prisons through to support and advocacy.  

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said

This is a harrowing account of what it is like to travel through the criminal justice system in a fog of anxiety and well founded fear of bullying, not understanding or half understanding what is happening to you.
This report raises important questions about how these vulnerable people got caught up in the criminal justice system in the first place and whether those responsible for special education, social care and family support could have done more to prevent this happening.

The review by the Prison Reform Trust was supported by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and is part of the Trust’s No One Knows programme (supported by Mencap). It can be downloaded in full from the following link

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Asif Yusuf



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