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No One Knows-Police Responses to Suspects Learning Disabilities and Learning Difficulties: A Review of Policy and Practice

NCJ Number
Jessica Jacobson
Date Published
59 pages
This report from the Prison Reform Trust in the United Kingdom discusses how police are expected to respond to suspects with learning disabilities and learning difficulties.
A review of police policy regarding the treatment of suspects with learning disabilities and learning difficulties in the United Kingdom identified the following safeguards: 1) encourage diversion into treatment and away from the criminal justice system for mentally disordered offenders; 2) request an appropriate adult (AA) be called to the police station mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable suspects; 3) require the custody officer to seek clinical attention for a detainee who appears to be suffering from a mental disorder; 4) disallow confession evidence in court if the police fail to ensure the requisite safeguards are in place during interviews. In addition to the review of existing policy, the report also discusses actual police practices used when dealing with mentally disordered suspects. The review identified the following difficulties that arise in police responses to vulnerable suspects: 1) inconsistent decisionmaking on enforcement, diversion and disposal options; 2) inconsistent use of AAs because suspects' needs are frequently not identified; 3) limited referral of suspects for clinical attention, and inconsistent attention from healthcare professionals; 4) lack of clarity in criteria for assessing fitness to interview; and 5) presentation and follow-through of suspects' rights to legal advice is sometimes poor. This report is part of a series of reports from the Prison Reform Trust in the United Kingdom that explore the experiences of persons with learning disabilities when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. This report examined how police respond to this group of individuals during the following phases: pre-arrest and arrest, caution and legal rights, detention, interview, and disposal. Recommendations for changes in policy and practice are discussed. References and appendixes