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News Archives: Index

October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action

October 5, 2010: Turning Prisoners Into Taxpayers

October 4, 2010: Murder Changes Now In Force

September 20, 2010: Probation Programmes Face Cuts

August 24, 2010: Victorian Poor Law Records Online

August 10, 2010: Justice Job Cuts

July 28, 2010: Prison Violence Growing

July 22, 2010: Police Numbers: Latest Figures

July 22, 2010: New Jurisdiction Rules

July 16, 2010: CCJS On Prison And Probation Spending Under Labour

July 15, 2010: Latest Statistics On Violent And Sexual Crime

July 15, 2010: Latest National Crime Figures

July 15, 2010: New Chief Prisons Inspector

July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers

July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform: Sentencing and Rehabilitation

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform Priorities

July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector

July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo

July 10, 2010: IPCC To Investigate Death of Raoul Moat

July 9, 2010: Women In Prison: New Report

July 9, 2009: Unjust Deserts: Imprisonment for Public Protection

July 8, 2010: Police Search Powers Change

July 7, 2010: Make 'Legal High' Illegal, Says ACMD

July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison

July 2, 2010: Police Buried Under a Blizzard of Guidance: HMIC

July 1, 2010: Freedom To Change The Law?

June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?

June 30, 2010: Revolving Door Of Offending Must Stop, Says Clarke

June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke: Speech on Criminal Justice Reform

June 29, 2010: No More Police Targets

June 26, 2010: Family Intervention Projects Questioned

June 25, 2010: Cutting Criminal Justice

June 24, 2010: Napo on Sex Offenders Report

June 23, 2010: Closing Courts: The Cuts Begin

June 23, 2010: Strategy To Tackle Gangs

June 15, 2010: Courts and Mentally Disordered Offenders

June 8, 2010: Working With Muslims in Prison

June 1, 2010: Your Chance To Nominate a QC

September 29, 2009: Learning Difficulties For People On Probation

Probation union Napo reports that a new survey of 2,306 individuals on probation supervision shows that over half have low educational attainment or learning difficulties, and 32% had difficulty in expressing themselves or understanding what is said to them.

The survey was carried out in summer 2009, and involved 63 probation staff from 16 of the 42 Probation Areas in England and Wales. The respondents were asked to analyse their caseloads in terms of literacy, language and speech problems. The survey found that:

  • 53% had low educational attainment or learning difficulties;
  • 32% had difficulty expressing themselves or understanding what was being said;
  • 17% had attended literacy courses
  • One in five had been to a special school or pupil referral unit in the past.

Despite the clear evidence of literacy and speech problems only one of the 2,306 had had input from a speech and language therapist.

Each probation respondent was asked to estimate how many persons on their caseload had either low educational attainment or learning difficulties. The range of responses was extraordinarily wide ranging, from a low of 5% to a high 100%. The majority felt that between 50% and 75% of their caseloads had learning difficulties, coupled with low educational attainment.

The range of analysis was also wide in answer to the question about those who had difficulties expressing themselves or failed to understand what was said to them. The range was from 0 to 75%.

The higher answer to the two questions at over 50% was consistent with other studies conducted by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

The discrepancies are without doubt related to the need for professional training for probation staff in order to assess the speech and language needs of those on their caseloads. Those staff who had received training indicated that they felt the attention to language and speech difficulties were also related to lower re-offending rates. The Probation Service faces cuts of anywhere between 15% and 20% over the next two years, so training therefore is likely to be reduced. With the impact of the recession this could have a serious adverse effect on recidivism.

The Probation Service currently has a caseload of 244,700. This represents an increase of 27% between 2002 and 2007. This report would suggest therefore that 85%, or 208,000, offenders on supervision have experienced either low educational attainment, learning difficulties, have problems expressing themselves or understanding what is said to them. If these issues are not dealt with urgently then re-offending rates will continue to cause concern.

Prison Reform Trust study – Prisoners Voices – experiences of the criminal justice system by prisoners with learning disabilities and difficulties (2008) - which examined the experiences of prisoners with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system agreed with those probation staff who felt that a minimum of two out of three individuals on their caseload had learning difficulties. The report, based on interviews with serving prisoners, found:

  • That over two-thirds of prisoners had difficulties reading prison information, which rose to four-fifths for prisoners with possible learning disabilities, similar difficulties were likely to have occurred at the police station and in court.
  • That over two-thirds of prisoners had difficulties filling in prison forms, which rose to over three-quarters with those with learning difficulties, similar difficulties were likely to have occurred at the police station and in court.
  • Results from the screening showed that two-thirds of prisoners experienced difficulties in verbal comprehension skills, including difficulties understanding certain words and in expressing themselves.
  • Over half of prisoners said they had difficulties making themselves understood in prison, which rose to over two-thirds for those with possible learning difficulties, similar difficulties were likely to have occurred at the police station and in court.
  • Less than a third of prisoners received support from an appropriate adult during police interview and non appeared to have benefited from special measures, such as the support of an intermediary.
  • Over a fifth of prisoners said they didn’t understand what was going on in court or what was happening to them, some prisoners didn’t understand why they were in court or what they had done wrong.

Studies show that 70% of male offenders have significant communications problems. Of those with communication problems up to two thirds have poor or very poor skills. The association between speech and language difficulties and behaviour difficulties is well established.

A third of children with speech and language difficulties go on to develop mental health problems4 with resultant criminal involvement in many cases. Half of the UK prison population has been identified as having literacy difficulties and Home Office studies have shown around 35% of offenders only have speaking and listening skills at a basic level.

Low levels of speech and language and literacy are risk factors for offending. Improving literacy and social skills is essential to reduce offending. People with speech language and communication problems have been shown to have a higher rate of re-offending9. Research shows that speech and language therapy targeted at improving the language skills of individuals can significantly reduce the number who go on to offend.

Napo’s survey found that over 50% of clients on the caseload had learning difficulties and 32% experienced problems expressing themselves or understanding what was being said to them. It is clear from the range of estimates made by staff of the needs of offenders on their caseload, that relevant training and assessment are urgently needed.

Other studies, particularly those of the PRT and RCSLT, estimate that up to 60% of those who enter the criminal justice system have learning, speech and communications difficulties. The majority of offenders entering the criminal justice system are less likely to understand procedures than the professionals working within it. This is because the majority of information is inaccessible, due to the complex language and vocabulary used, which an individual with a communication difficulty is likely to find difficult or even impossible to understand. Staff in the survey have expressed a view that a failure to address communication difficulties has a detrimental impact on reconviction rates.

During the next two years, the probation service faces cuts of between 15% and 25%. It is highly likely, therefore, that staff will have less access to relevant training than they do at present. Caseloads are likely to grow during the recession. A failure to deal with the learning difficulties of individuals on the caseload means that staff will have challenges in delivering rehabilitation and there will be more crime, and more victims for the future.

Napo has made the following recommendations:

a) There needs to be a thorough assessment of the training needs of staff in the area of speech, language and communication difficulties of individuals on their caseload and awareness training made available.

b) Staff should be given access and be able to refer to relevant professionals where needs of individuals on their caseloads are high.

c) Development of specific programmes that deal with the communication difficulties of individuals on probation caseload as a matter of urgency. The RCSLT13 is developing accredited training for staff in understanding the needs of people with communication difficulties which will be available from the winter.

d) The Probation Service needs to conduct an audit of the service to ascertain whether it is compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, to ensure that those services are fully accessible to people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

e) The Probation Service must ensure that all forms of communication, particularly letters and contracts, are accessible to those who have learning difficulties or disabilities.

f) Training should be provided so that staff can indentify an individual’s needs at commencement of an order and at report stage to ensure support packages are put in place.

g) There is need for investment in inter-agency cooperation and information sharing to ensure that the best advice and services are available for those individuals on orders with learning difficulties and disabilities