Social Science

Recognising & responding to defendants with intellectual disability in court settings

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  Peer Reviewed

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Background To date, there is little evidence on the characteristics of defendants with intellectual disability when presenting to the criminal court system. This study was developed to recognise and examine the characteristics related to gender, ethnicity, mental health and index offences of defendants with intellectual disability and compare these to defendants without intellectual disability within Court Liaison & Diversion Services in London, England. Methods This is a retrospective data analysis of routine administrative data collected by the Liaison and Diversion services across five Magistrates courts in London, England. Data were analysed on defendants identified through screening to have an intellectual disability and compared to defendants without an intellectual disability. Results 9088 defendants were identified, of these 4%, (349) were screened as having an intellectual disability. The study found an overrepresentation of defendants of black ethnicity along with high rates of comorbid mental illness and personality disorder amongst both non-intellectual disability and intellectual disability defendants. Defendants with intellectual disability self-reported self-harm and suicidal behaviour at higher rates. For neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD), those with intellectual disability were over 4 times more likely to have comorbid ADHD and over 14 times more likely to have ASD. Index offences were mostly similar although defendants with intellectual disability had elevated rates of being charged with sexual offences and breach of the peace. Conclusion The findings confirm the presence of a small but significant number of defendants with intellectual disability presenting to the Court Liaison & Diversion services who have significant needs in terms of comorbidity and risk for suicide and self-harm behaviour. Further research is needed to understand the experiences of defendants with intellectual disability presenting to the Court including how best to deliver service models to improve recognition and respond to their high rates of health needs.