First responses by the Criminal Justice system to people with learning disabilities can be improved


The authors of this study look at the way the criminal justice system responds to people with learning disabilities by focusing on the first response to people suspected of a minor offence. They argue that at this early stage, the decisions of all the key players have a significant impact on the journey of the person with disabilities through the system.

The authors set out to document criteria used by the police and crown attorneys which influenced the way people with learning disabilities moved on through the system and to suggest improvements that might lead to better support for such individuals throughout the judicial process.

The authors carried out 14 semi-structured interviews with key people in the Criminal Justice System and service providers and community organisations that supported people with learning disabilities. They suggest the results show that there are criteria implicit in the decisions taken in those initial stages that influence subsequent judicial procedures against people with learning disabilities.

They suggest that improvements could be made in the screening of learning disability and better provision of information about learning disability to key personnel. They also suggest that the use of summons to appear over other types of procedures may improve the process and that memorandums of understanding between organisations supporting people with learning disabilities and police services could set out better procedures and improve communication.

The first critical steps through the criminal justice system for persons with intellectual disabilities, Mercier, C. and Crocker, A. G. in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39: 130–138.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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