Perceptions of Learning Disability Rates In The CJS

Perceptions of Learning Disability Rates In The CJS

Whilst undertaking a piece of consultancy work recently, relating to providing training in Learning Disability Awareness for people working in the care sector, I was somewhat surprised to find that Police, Prison staff and other non-specialists working across the Criminal Justice System are perceived to be Tier One workers, in relation to their need for knowledge and training on Learning Disabilities, whilst a dentist or optician working in the community would be considered to be a Tier 2 worker.

According to the ‘Learning Disabilities Core Skills Education and Training Framework’, a framework commissioned and funded by the Department of Health and developed in collaboration by Skills for Health, Skills for Care and Health Education England, the Tiers are as follows:

Tier 1—knowledge for roles that require general awareness of learning disabilities

Relevant to those in any sector who may occasionally interact with those affected by learning disabilities. For example, this may include those working in education, policing, custodial care, housing or indeed a manager or leader in any organisation. This is also relevant to the entire health and social care workforce including ancillary staff.

Tier 2 — knowledge and skills for roles that will have some regular contact with people (children, young people and adults) with a learning disability

This is relevant to workers in in health and social care settings who are not specialists in learning disabilities, but are likely to have some regular contact with people with learning disabilities. For example, this may include GPs, community nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dentists, dieticians, opticians, speech and language therapists, ambulance staff, A&E staff, pharmacists etc.

Tier 3 — knowledge and skills for those providing care and support for people (children, young people and adults) with a learning disability

This is relevant to staff working intensively with people with learning disabilities including those who take a lead in decision making and developing or disseminating good practice. For example, this may include learning disability nurses, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, GPs with special interest in learning disability, social workers etc.

Having worked in a variety of roles across the CJS, conducted research relating to wider diversity needs and specifically related to learning disability and autism prevalence and needs within the CJS I am surprised that their perceived need for knowledge and skills is so low.

Although little research has been conducted recently into current prevalence rates, it is generally accepted that 20-30% of offenders have a learning disability or learning difficulty that interferes with their ability to cope with the Criminal Justice System, and that 7% of adult prisoners have a learning disability defined by having an IQ under 70 and 25% have an IQ under 80, commonly regarded as a borderline learning disability. This of course does not reflect the identification rates found in the CJS, where for example, about 5% of adults in police custody are identified as sufficiently vulnerable to require support from an Appropriate Adult.

This prevalence rate for Learning Disability in the CJS compares to about 2.5% of the general population, and so consequently I find it hard to understand how a prison officer or police officer is perceived as interacting with people with a learning disability less frequently than a dentist or optician. Maybe it’s because the framework is designed to inform the training and development of people working directly within the healthcare sectors (as dentist and optician are both perceived to do). None the less, this compounds the perception of lower than average learning disability rates amongst people in the CJS, rather than recognising that it is, in fact, substantially higher, and that understanding, knowledge and skills should perhaps be a greater focus, rather than a lower focus.


Further relevant posts on this website:

Responses to LD in Prisons
Women with Learning Differences in the CJS



About Hugh Asher


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