Headlines: March 7th, 2007



New research published today says that thousands of people in prison who have learning disabilities face being bullied and missing out on rehabilitation courses because they are not being identified and because prison staff are not being given the training or resources to deal with them.

The report from the Prison Reform Trust is based on an unprecedented survey of professionals working in gaols in England and Wales. It found that some prisoners who have a learning disability do not even know why they are in prison and it estimates that 16,000 to 24,000 prisoners – between 20 and 30 per cent of the prison population – have a disability or difficulty that interferes with their ability to cope.

Eighty per cent of prison staff who were polled said it was ‘unlikely’ or ‘only in a minority’ of cases that those with a learning disability would have their condition flagged up when they entered prison. More than half of respondents said prisoners were bullied and victimized because of their learning difficulty or disability. One of the advisors on the group’s work, who has a learning disability and first hand experience of the criminal justice system, said, “They should treat you the same as other people. They are rough with you when they think you are thick.”

Prison staff also identified serious problems in understanding the court and prison system for prisoners with learning disabilities. They also pointed out that vital courses to progress sentences were unsuitable and this left those with learning difficulties stuck in a maze and likely to spend longer in prison.

Joyce Quinn, the former prisons minister and chair of the research programme said, “We now know that significant numbers of prisoners are not receiving the support they need to address their offending behaviour, turn away from crime and lead constructive lives. This cannot continue.” Dame Jo Williams, the Chief Executive of Mencap, which is working with the programme was also concerned that prisoners’ need were not being met and said prison staff needed better awareness training and prison education programmes needed to be tailored to meet the needs of a broader range of people.