Comparison of juvenile offenders with and without learning disabilities shows differences in offence type


Previous studies have suggested that people with mild learning disability show a higher rate of offending when compared with peers without learning disability and that this rate is especially high in those aged under 18. High rates of learning disability have also been found in studies of young offenders in custody.

In the U.S., one study found a prevalence of learning disability among juvenile offenders of 12.6%.  Although estimates in the UK have been shown to be lower than this, there remains some concern about methodological problems relating to case identification in those studies.

The researchers in this current U.S. study were interested in looking at the differences between juvenile offenders with and without learning disability in Washington state. They were interested to find any differences in type of offence committed and particular risk factors for offending.

They looked at data from completed Washington State Juvenile Court Assessments relating to 102 adolescents with learning disabilities and 526 without learning disabilities, all of whom had appeared before the courts for a criminal act.

What they found was that the adolescents with learning disabilities had committed more offences against persons compared with those without learning disabilities.

Interestingly, they found there were few differences in risk factors between the two groups in relation to school, family and use of free time.

They did find that those offenders without learning disabilities often had problems in the domain of relationships and with alcohol and drugs as opposed to those in the group with learning disabilities, where the majority of problems experienced were in the domains of attitude, aggression and skills.

Differences between juvenile offenders with and without intellectual disability in offense type and risk factors, Asscher J et al in Research in Developmental Disabilities 33, 6, 1905-1913

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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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