Reading the words of Jake Hardy’s grieving mother (Eric Allison. The Guardian, 4th April 2014) would stir the hearts of most people.
Jake Hardy, a 17-year-old boy, took his own life at Hindley Young Offenders Intuition near Wigan in 2012. This tragic event has been reported on many times, more recently The Guardian highlighting inquiry findings.
Jake had ADHD, learning disabilities and a history of mental health, all recorded in his personal file. His Personal Officer did not read Jake’s file, his decisions about how to manage and support this vulnerable offender were based on Jake’s physical presentation: a boy standing over six foot and exhibiting challenging behaviour. The officer told the inquiry jury he thought Jake “… was able to look after himself...” He, and other officers, made no effort to look ‘behind the behaviour’.
I am confident that others will have made clear to this and other officers, that personal files must always be read when allocated the role of personal officer. Siarad Da insists that looking ‘behind the behaviour’ will provide professionals with knowledge and understanding which leads to improved opportunities to move forward and make change.
The Probation Chiefs Association, Public Health England and Revolving Door Agency produce a briefing paper for Directors of Public Health suggesting positive actions and approaches which could be used to tackle the health inequalities of people in contact with the criminal justice system residing in their community.
One of the key issues highlighted was for those with learning disabilities…….the difficulties this population experiences in understanding creates barriers to accessing appropriate mainstream healthcare services.
We already know that there is a high percentage of the prison population have some level of communication difficulties. This disability will impact on their ability to communicate health issues and understand advice to improve their health.
The paper recognises there are discriminatory attitudes among health care staff, I would suggested that these ‘discriminatory attitudes’ are more accurately described as ‘limited understanding and knowledge of appropriate communication’. Basic training for professionals working with this population would greatly help the elimination of ‘discriminatory attitudes’ among health care staff.
Click here for the full report
Social Exclusion is complex, it involves the lack of and denial of rights, services, and the inability to participate in normal relationships.
People who are socially excluded experience a number of barriers. Social exclusion is often measured in terms of poverty (family income), although this is a simplification of a complex set of factors that can change over time.
Some would argue that disability is a more useful measure of social exclusion, because together with ethnic minorities, people with impairments are among the most exposed to exclusion in Europe.
Who is at risk of social exclusion?
Government has identified groups at greatest risk of social exclusion, many of whom are also at risk of having language and communication needs.
There is evidence of a high incidence of language and communication needs in young offenders, looked after children and those who violate social norms – as well as other social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Language and Social Exclusion click here
The statistics are clear that vulnerable young people and adults are over represented in the Criminal Justice System. Jenny Talbot from The Prison Reform Trust continues to raise awareness of the disadvantages of offenders with language and communication difficulties. What are the Facts..?
- Over 60% of children who offend have communication difficulties and, of this group, around half have poor or very poor communication skills
• Around a quarter of children who offend have an IQ of less than 70
• 7% of adult prisoners have an IQ of less than 70 and a further 25% have an IQ 70-79; it is generally acknowledged that between 5 and 10% of the adult offender population has a learning disability
• 43% of children on community orders have emotional and health needs, and the prevalence amongst children in custody is higher
• 39% of adult offenders under supervision in one probation area had a current mental illness, and 49% had a past/lifetime mental illness
• 75% of adult prisoners have a dual diagnosis (mental health problems combined with alcohol or drug misuse).
Fair Access to Justice? Click here
I have supported and watched many young people struggle through the court system. Alerting solicitors that their client has language and communication difficulties and will need additional support to fully participate during interview has almost always been difficult. Responses have varied, including no response at all:
‘…it’s ok we’ve done special needs…’
‘…it’s only going to be a warning…’
‘…we don’t have time to change things now…’
On a few occasions I met with solicitors who worked hard to meet the needs of their client fighting for additional support and guidance. Too often vulnerable C&YP are not being given the opportunity to accessing appropriate support at the beginning of the criminal justice system; police stations, during interviews. This can only lead us to question if the full story is being heard.
Information for legal professionals is out there, directing them to take account of the needs of witnesses and defendants.
I found this guidance useful and I believe can ‘re-arm’ those supporting C&YP to access fairness in courts.
A summary of the Equal Treatment Bench Book.
The Equality Act 2010 represents the single most significant development in equality law for the past 40 years. The Act consolidates existing statutory provision – previously spread disparately over various legislative measures – and thus harmonises discrimination law, while strengthening existing provision and creating new duties and rights. The booklet `Fairness in Courts and Tribunals’ has been updated to reflect those changes.