Compared to the general population, offenders have disproportionately higher burdens of health and social care needs and people with a learning disability and/or autism can face even greater burdens.
They frequently experience disadvantage and discrimination alongside a multitude of pressures, such as poor housing, hate crime, financial exploitation, and difficulties in developing friendships and relationships; while many will struggle to cope, more generally, with the demands of daily living.
They may also experience poor physical and mental health and problems with alcohol and drugs misuse. Some will have experienced poor parenting as a child and had a limited or inadequate education, including sex education.
Their needs are often multiple and complex, requiring professional services to provide a highly responsive, well-coordinated approach, which can be hard to deliver. Collaborative working across health, social care and justice agencies is essential to better understand how to improve outcomes for people with a learning disability and/or autism who sexually offend.
Joint training between health, social care and justice agencies can help identify shared priorities and break down some of the barriers and misunderstandings that often exist between different professional groups and sectors. For example, having a shared understanding of ‘risk’ and the factors that can impede positive risk taking, are especially pertinent.
Timely access to care at times of distress or crisis in a person’s life, as well as care that fosters independence, are important in developing an integrated framework of support. Proactive and preventative approaches to service provision can greatly reduce the likelihood of an offence occurring and help keep our communities safe. However, should a person come to the attention of the police, liaison and diversion services are a good example of an early intervention model that can help coalesce support around the individual and help to inform criminal justice decision making.
Holding individuals to account for their behaviour by supporting them to learn new and adaptive skills, and to understand the implications of their behaviour, is an important principle in improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities and/or autism who sexually offend, and in enabling them to live full, valued, and meaningful lives.
Building on a seminar held in May 2017, this briefing paper provides a stimulus for further discussion. It brings to the fore the plight of an especially marginalised group of people, and the challenges they face, describes positive practice examples and proposes recommendations for improved outcomes.