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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

OP63. People with a Learning Disability who Offend: Forgiven but Forgotten?

Price: £0.00

Published: Nov 2007

Status: current

Number of pages: 34

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~ Report by the Irish College of Psychiatrists ~


The needs of people with learning disability and offending behaviour pose a huge challenge to service providers. There is anecdotal evidence of significant unmet need in this area, which was the main impetus for the formation of this Working Group. The international literature in relation to people with learning disability who offend is limited.


Underreporting of offending behaviour is partly due to the overlap with the paradigm of ‘challenging behaviour’. Such underreporting makes it difficult to define and measure this population.


The vulnerability of people with a learning disability who come in contact with the criminal justice system is well described and noted.


Several documents have been published in recent years recommending the establishment of a forensic learning disability service in Ireland. A Vision for Change (Department of Health and Children, 2006) outlines plans for a forensic learning disability service in Ireland. This is warmly welcomed, although the service outlined is inadequate when compared with the service provision recommended in the research literature.


Court diversion schemes are developing in Ireland but need to include people with a learning disability who offend.


The Mental Health Act 2001 and the Criminal Law Insanity Act 2006 facilitate the admission of people with learning disability who offend to approved mental health treatment centres. The existing facilities are substantially general adult psychiatric services and do not offer the specialist facility for the assessment, care and treatment required by this specialist group. In addition, those who are unfit to stand trial because of a learning disability are placed in the National Forensic Mental Health Service’s Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, rather than a learning disability service.


The population with learning disability who offend does not easily fit into existing services. The Forensic Learning Disability Psychiatry Working Group was formed in order to estimate the existing unmet need in this area and recommend solutions for the current situation. In 2005 the Working Group reviewed the existing literature, conducted a survey of service providers in Ireland, consulted with stakeholders through the use of a focus group and presented findings to a joint meeting of the learning disability and forensic faculties of the Irish College of Psychiatrists and Northern Ireland Division of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


Contents of this report:


  • Members of the Working Group
  • Acknowledgements
  • Executive summary
  • Definitions
  • Introduction
  • Assessing level of need for a forensic learning disability service in Ireland: pilot survey
  • Focus group
  • References and further reading
  • Appendix 1: Covering letter sent with questionnaire
  • Appendix 2: Questionnaire
  • Appendix 3: Comments of Professor G. O’Brien


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