Offenders with learning disabilities : the involvement & attitudes of professionals
It has been reported that there is an over-representation of people with learning disabilities in prison populations. Various explanations have been offered for this including theories that people with disabilities are susceptible to criminal behaviour, and that they receive different treatment within the justice system. There is no evidence of over-representation of people with learning disabilities in the UK penal system although evidence does suggest that there are a significant number of prisoners with borderline learning disabilities who are psychologically vulnerable. This research set out to examine current levels of contact that psychiatrists have with various criminal justice agencies, as well as exploring the attitudes and beliefs of other criminal justice workers in order to assess current arrangements of treatment and care for offenders who have a learning disability. 791 consultant psychiatrists registered in four sections of the Royal College of Psychiatry were surveyed to detect current levels of contact with five criminal justice agencies, and also to assess their levels of involvement with the diversion of mentally disordered offenders into health care provision. Responses indicated that forensic and general psychiatrists had the highest levels of contact with criminal justice agencies, although there was also limited contact with child and learning disability psychiatrists. Forensic psychiatrists were also shown to be the group who were most likely to be involved with diversion schemes, and there was some evidence to suggest that respondents were unhappy with current arrangements for diversion because of bed and staff shortages. An attitude survey concerning offenders with learning disabilities was distributed to 100 criminal justice professionals (judges, magistrates, police and appropriate adults). 28 of these respondents also participated in semi-structured interviews which provided qualitative data to supplement the findings of the attitude survey. These studies provided evidence that criminal justice professionals were not eager to assign special rights to people because of their learning disability status, but instead were confident that the present legal system could accommodate the needs of offenders with learning disabilities in the present system. However, significant concern was raised by all respondents that specific training in needed to address learning disability issues before this can be fully achieved. There was little evidence found to support `susceptibility' theories of learning disability offending, although there was some evidence which gave support to the `different treatment' hypothesis.