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Offenders with learning disabilities 'neglected'

The needs of people with learning disabilities are “going unnoticed” when they are arrested, a government investigation has revealed. 

The inspection, carried out by three government justice departments and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) covered activity at police stations, the prosecution and court process, pre-sentencing preparation and planning undertaken at the start of a community order. 

Concerns were raised that few medical or psychiatric professionals trained to work with people with learning disabilities were available in police custody suites. 

There is also a lack of knowledge and training which led to offenders with a learning disability “being perceived as a problem to be processed” rather than an individual with particular needs, the inspectors reported. 

Offenders with learning disabilities were also not receiving the support needed to minimise their risk of harm to others or their likelihood of reoffending, the report claims. 

Crown Prosecution Service chief inspector and chair of the Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors group, Michael Fuller, called for a “balance to be struck” between support for people with learning disabilities and holding them to account for their offending. 

He said: “If offender engagement is to have any real meaning it has to start with an understanding of the offender's learning ability and style based on an effective screening of all offenders. 

“Although we found some excellent examples of professionals going the extra mile to ensure that individual offenders with learning disabilities received the appropriate support they required, such instances were exceptional.” 

Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “We know that people with learning disabilities receive poorer health care than the rest of the population.  When they enter the criminal justice system, it is important they have a nurse or a health care professional with specialised skills and knowledge to help assess their needs and provide suitable care.

 “Learning Disability nurses provide a great deal of support to frontline police, assisting with their education and awareness.  Early intervention can help improve health and well being, address health inequalities, reduce re-offending, crime and protect the public.” 

Recently the government has given £25 million in funding for nurses and other healthcare professionals to work in liaison services at police stations.