gavelOffenders with learning disabilities need more support to help them to move on with their lives when they are released from prison, an expert has claimed.

There is evidence that people with learning disabilities are over-represented in the criminal justice system, according to a recent review by the West Yorkshire Probation Service.

This corroborates research by the Prison Reform Trust in 2007 that found that about 7% of the prison population have an IQ of less than 70 and up to 30% of prisoners have some form of learning disability or difficulty.

Dramatic variations in learning disability support

However, the support available to people with a learning disability when they leave prison varies dramatically, according to Julian Yates, a senior practitioner and lecturer for Waymarks, which provides support to adults with learning disabilities with complex histories. Yet the support they receive upon release is key to reducing the risk of re-offending.

“When offenders with learning disabilities leave prison, they are usually ill-prepared for developing a new life in the community,” Yates said.

“When they leave they have few or no community or supportive relationships to return to. Former networks are often destroyed by the effects of the offending or would re-expose the person to negative risks, victims and role models whose influences need to be avoided.

“It is also important to remember that a large proportion of learning disabled offenders are detained in hospitals and secure settings.

“There is a serious lack of skilled community-based service providers to enable people to leave these facilities, which often result in prolonged and often unnecessary continued detention. Ensuring that people leave these settings quicker can only be possible through the right support being available.”

Importance of successful community relationships

Focused, skilled and targeted support is required to support the development of the new positive identities that support successful community relationships. People with learning disabilities rarely have the connections or resources to be able to initiate or manage re-structuring their lives themselves and often lack social functioning skills.

“Many people with a learning disability who have offended and spent time in specialist services have developed and come to rely on a culture and identity which is strongly influenced by both theirs and others perspectives of them as ‘offenders’,” said Yates.

“In many cases, there are benefits to the person in maintaining these identities once they have been released from prison, because much support that is offered is conditional upon the presence of risk.”

Negative aspects of 'recovery'

Being perceived as ‘recovered’ can often lead to negative outcomes, Yates added. This can happen if the person sees a reduction in focus and encouragement from others, de-motivating them.

It can lead to a feeling of loneliness and social isolation because of the loss of supportive relationships and difficulties functioning in community settings that can feel judgemental. Without the right support when being released into the community, people can feel a loss of kudos, acceptance, belonging and self-appraisal.

“It is so important to help adults with learning disabilities feel accepted again in their communities. They need to have a good perception of themselves and what they can achieve.

“With support in the right context, at Waymarks we have supported people back into work, community activities and successfully helped them to live positive and fulfilled lives.”