The Prison Reform Trust yesterday called for UK police forces to use a common system to screen suspects for vulnerability to prevent miscarriages of justice against people with learning disabilities.
In a report, it warned existing safeguards were not stopping people with learning disabilities from being mistreated in custody as they often did not properly understand their rights or the charges being made against them.
The study is part of the trust’s ongoing No one knows programme looking at the experiences of people with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system.
It found that provision of appropriate adults – a designated person who advocates for a suspect who is deemed “mentally vulnerable” – was inconsistent because custody and investigating officers frequently lacked expertise in identifying needs.
Jamie Bauld case
The report follows the case of Jamie Bauld, a teenager with Down’s Syndrome who was arrested last September on suspicion of a racist assault despite the fact he has a mental age of five. It estimated that around 20-30% of offenders have learning difficulties or learning disabilities that limits their ability to cope with the criminal justice system.
Campaigners called for a standard system to be introduced in all police forces to help identify suspects’ communication and comprehension difficulties and for officers to undergo relevant training. The report also recommended that provision of appropriate adults should become a statutory responsibility for local authorities or primary care trusts.
The report was backed by Jan Berry, chair of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers. She said these issues “have been neglected for too long”.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “A single high-profile miscarriage of justice catches the headlines but literally thousands of people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties are ill served by a system that is blind to their needs.”
Expert guide to learning disabilities
Home Office guidance on appropriate adults