Learning Disability Inmates Failed By System
People with learning difficulties face “personal, systemic and routine” discrimination across the criminal justice system, from arrest to release from prison, and are more likely to be victims of miscarriages of justice, according to a new report. Vulnerable people face a litany of problems on encountering the system, including a failure by the police and courts to provide adequate assistance to ensure they understand charges, and an increased likelihood of being physically restrained once in prison.
The report, No One Knows, is part of a three-year nationwide review by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) designed to improve the way people with learning difficulties are dealt with by the criminal justice system. It concludes that despite “pockets” of good practice, police, courts and prison authorities are “failing in their legal duty to eliminate disability discrimination and promote equality” – something enshrined in the Disability Discrimination Act. Previous studies estimate that between 20% and 30% of inmates have learning difficulties.
Some of those interviewed for the PRT study said they were manipulated into agreeing to police interviews without support, while many said they didn’t fully understand why they had been arrested in the first place. The report recommends “system-wide reform” and calls for robust procedures to identify people with difficulties as soon as they come into contact with police.
Juliet Lyon, director of the PRT, says: “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.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson says: “All government agencies involved in the criminal justice system, including HM Courts Service and HM Prison Service, are committed to ensuring vulnerable people are given the appropriate care and support.”
A PRT spokesman says its report has been submitted for consideration to the Bradley review, set up last December by justice secretary Jack Straw to examine the diversion of prisoners with mental health problems from the prison system. Headed by Lord [Keith] Bradley, it is expected to report and make its recommendations next month.