Vale man’s project cuts re-offending in half

A MENTAL health nurse has cut re-offending in HALF among prisoners with learning disabilities.

Vale man Gary Docherty, who has been involved with people with learning disabilities for 23 years, has been so successful in working with convicts that jails in Australia, Norway and England have introduced his methods.

The 40-year-old devised a programme to ensure the problems of prisoners are properly identified and they are supported on their release, and he has picked up awards for his innovative work.

After carrying out research on criminals he worked with, Gary found that re-offending had reduced from 44 per cent to 20 per cent.

Gary, who works at Greenock Prison, said: “These people are very vulnerable.

“One of the big problems is someone in prison is forgotten about, but we have a lot of ties with the community to make sure that won’t happen.”

The method that Gary has come up with is a multi-disciplinary approach addressing housing and health issues, and engaging with social work departments.

He said: “I build up a body of contacts in the community so I can link in with them.

“When they are in prison, we can get people from the community in who are going to deal with them on the outside.”

Gary has always had an interest in researching learning difficulties and volunteered with social work departments when he was younger.

After qualifying as a mental health nurse and starting work at HMP Kilmarnock seven years ago, Gary brought in a system to identify those with learning disabilities within prisons.

He said: “When I started there, I had no experience of prisons but I kept seeing people with learning disabilities.

“I asked the prison what they did to address this and couldn’t believe nothing was getting done for them.”

To identify those needing support, Gary introduced a screening tool which was being used in Australia.

He said: “There was nothing in the UK for identifying prisoners with learning disabilities.

“If you wanted to find out a prisoner’s IQ, you had to get a psychologist. They do a test and it takes about four or five hours.

“This system, the Hayes Ability Screening Index, only takes about seven minutes and, in that time, we can get an approximate IQ for that person.

“That gives us a basis from where we can work.”

Gary has since done research into the success of this system and found it to be effective.

He said: “The current reoffending rate is 46.3 per cent in the UK, but within that group it was reduced to 20 per cent which is pretty incredible really.

“It obviously proves that the system I use works.

“Sometimes we are seeing 16 to 17-year-old boys with an IQ of a 10 or 11-year-old.

“I am not saying they haven’t done wrong, but sometimes you need to look at the reasons behind their offending.”

Since moving to HMP Greenock, Gary has introduced a learning disability service there and several prisons across Scotland have also brought in systems based on his model. He is delighted that other countries, including Norway and Australia, have also copied his system.

Gary said: “When we have these prisoners in who we know have a learning disability, the last thing we want to do is see them again and again.

“It costs the government a lot of money to put people in prison but that could be used to stop them re-offending.

“It is hoped that, in the near future, all Scottish prisons will use the same model of the learning disability service.”