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Learning Difficulties and Disabilities

Dangerous or just different?

There is a subsection of the prison population who are often overlooked and who may not even have ever needed to be there if they received proper support earlier on in life. This is the section of prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties (LDD).

A recent report showed that prisoners with LDD were twice as likely as other prisoners to have been unemployed at the time of their arrest. They were also three times as likely to have been excluded from school as prisoners without these conditions.

Under a third of those in the study were provided with appropriate adult representation at their police interviews and half of the test group said they did not know what would happen when they had been charged. Nearly a quarter did not understand what was going on in court, why they were in court or what they had done wrong. Most agreed that had anyone been made available to explain what was happening in simpler language then they would have understood.

Confused and imprisoned

Upon arrival in prison most of the LDD prisoners had problems with understanding the information they were given and forms they had to fill in. This led to them missing out on thing such as gym access, family visits or correct meals. There were also a large number of instances where confusion about what was expected of them or the rules they were meant to follow meant disciplinary measures were put in place because of miscomprehension.

Prisoners with LDD were five times as likely to have been physically restrained and three times as likely to have been segregated from the general population, something they already experienced as they were left alone because they had not been able to understand the forms required for group activities. Nearly half the group questioned said they had been subjected to bullying and they were almost three times as likely to have clinically diagnosed depression.

Seeking help

The LDD group were far more likely to have desires to find work and gain education than the comparison group. They were also far more likely to be enrolled in the educational or behavioural programmes provided within prison. However, most also displayed an unrealistic level of expectation regarding the help they might receive from the provided services and the standards of education which would be provided.

There was also a tendency for members of the LDD group to describe themselves as having no one to help or support them when they were released and they were almost all worried about what would happen to them when they left prison and that they might end up returning there.

Breaking the trend

There is a clear need for the educational, justice and prison systems to recognise the existence of these people and their difficulties. A large number of people are falling through the cracks and falling into criminal behaviour through lack of options or simply because they don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong. They need to be identified and helped, both in prison and prior so that they may not end up there. With proper educational support there is a portion of the prison community who have no desire for criminal behaviour and if helped need never return to prison life.