Impoverished personal relationship found to be predictor of offending in adults with learning disabilities

Prisoner behind bars

Criminology has used strain theory as a way of looking at how certain social structures within a society may produce pressure on citizens to commit crime, identifying strain as either structural, e.g. processed at the societal level ,or individual referring to difficulties experienced in moving towards satisfying needs

There has been little attempt to use this approach to explore whether this approach is relevant to understanding offending behaviour in people with learning disabilities.

The researchers in this study were interested in looking at the relationship between contemporary life experiences, well-being, choice and offending among people with learning disabilities.


What they did was use a number of existing measures of ordinary life experiences and measures of choice to try identify differences between offenders and non-offenders with learning disabilities.

They used the ‘Life Experiences Checklist’ (LEC), the ‘Personal Well-being Index – ID’ and the ‘Choice Questionnaire’, and administered these to 27 offenders and 19 non-offenders learning disabilities identified by and recruited through local community learning disability teams

They wanted to look at the relationships between these variables, so used a statistical technique known as regression analysis to explore this.


What they found was that an indicator of impoverished personal relationships, from the Life Experiences Checklist provided the best predictor of offending, which suggested a fit with criminological explanations based on social control.


They conclude that their findings add weight to the view that existing measures of life circumstances such as those used in the study can be used to explore environmentally oriented criminological theories of offending in people with learning disabilities. Clearly this is an early exploratory study, but suggests that existing measurement tool could be useful in improving our understanding of the relationships between life experiences, well-being, choice and offending.


Offending by People with Intellectual Disabilities in Community Settings: A Preliminary Examination of Contextual Factors, Wheeler J et al., in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 26: 370–383.

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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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