People with learning disabilities in the justice system are not getting equal access to the law or support to successfully complete prison or community sentences because information is not made accessible for them, an event has heard.
Currently up to a third of people in prison have either a learning disability or difficulty that can affect their ability to read and to understand information. 7% of prisoners have an IQ of less than 70 and a further 25% have an IQ of 70-79.
But documents and guidance throughout the justice system are often formal and include legal and technical terms that are not commonly used. As a result, people with learning disabilities or difficulties can find it hard to follow court proceedings or understand what is expected of them and to work towards their rehabilitation.
To combat this, charity KeyRing Living Support Networks, the Prison Reform Trust, former prisoners and people working in the justice system are calling for an expansion in the use of easy read materials.
Easy read uses simple words and clear pictures to make written information more accessible to those who require it, enabling people to access the same information that others have. Recent debates in the House of Lords have highlighted the importance of providing accessible information.
During the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, the government committed to produce easy read versions of licence and supervision condition documents to help ensure that people with communication difficulties are able to understand their supervision requirements and what is expected of them.
Lord Bradley, shadow health minister and author of an influential review of the treatment of people with mental health needs in the criminal justice system, hosted an event at the House of Lords on October 22 to highlight this issue. He said: “In my report I drew attention to the importance of effective communication. Easy Read is a good example of how information can be presented in a way that helps people with comprehension and literacy difficulties to understand what is happening and what is expected of them. This will make things fairer for vulnerable people in the justice system.”
“Scary and incomprehensible world”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, added: “People with learning disabilities caught up in the justice system are often vulnerable and isolated in a scary and incomprehensible world. A lack of support sets many offenders up to fail and can lead to injustice. Greater use of easy read would help ensure people can take part in trial proceedings and understand what is expected of them in prison and the community.”
One serving prisoner interviewed in the Prison Reform Trust report Prisoners Voices said: “The forms [used in prison] are so long winded, it’s a big sheet. I think they make them a bit scary, it’s very formal and they don’t need to be so bad, and then you have to pluck up the courage to ask for help and you feel inadequate and show weakness.”
Speaking about his own experience in prison, Danny, a member of KeyRing’s ‘Working for Justice’ Group said: “The rules aren’t explained to you. You’re given a pack when you go into prison: these are the rules, this is what you’ll abide by. But, especially with me because I can’t read or write, so to go and ask somebody, ‘would you read this to me’, all you got was ‘we’re not secretaries’