Intellectual Disability and Criminal Justice

1st Conference at the University of Chester on Intellectual Disability and Criminal Justice July 8th 2010.

This conference comes at a fascinating juncture for analysis of the relationship between intellectual disability and the criminal justice system, clearer strategic direction, burgeoning practitioner knowledge and expertise, yet significant financial restriction. Interest in this complex issue began to gather force in the emergent mid-1990s post-institutional climate, with early recognition that there were a number of people whose needs were not being addressed effectively. 

The circumstances, however, were not in place for a comprehensive analysis of how the needs of this group could be fully considered, there were few practitioners with expertise in the area and criminal justice agencies accommodated individuals with intellectual disabilities on an individual basis. 

The intervening years, however, have enabled community services to acquire a degree of maturity, professionals with specific expertise have emerged, and there has been a re-negotiation between care boundaries, mental health and intellectual disabilities, prison and high security, and community and lower secure provision. The last couple of years have seen a renewed impetus in examining how the criminal justice system seeks to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities, along with other groups vulnerable to social exclusion, such as those with mental health issues, substance misuse problems and homelessness.   

The No One Knows report from the Prison Reform Trust (Talbot, 2008) sought the views of prisoners, people with intellectual disabilities as victims and witnesses was explored in relation to Crown Prosecution Service decision making (CPS, 2008), the government has responded positively to the influential Bradley Report (2009), accepting the "direction of travel", establishing the Health and Criminal Justice Board, but stating clearly that there is to be "little scope, if any, for new resources in the foreseeable future" (Department of Health 2009). 

This provides the immediate context for this conference, a pragmatic emphasis on people with intellectual disabilities requiring clear identification and assessment, greater attention to recognized health issues, and the establishment of a strategic framework. The conference, however, will also seek to contextualize these developments through an examination of policy, local initiatives, practitioner competence and theoretical analysis of the relationship between intellectual disability and criminal justice.