Reforming Practice for Working with Offenders with LEarning Disabilities Banner

Reforming Practice for Working with Offenders with Learning Disabilities

Research by the University of Lincoln’s Forensic and Clinical Research Group has led to new risk assessment procedures for offenders with learning disabilities.

The Principal Investigator and grant holder on the study was Professor Todd E Hogue, at the time Lead Psychologist for The Peaks Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) unit at Rampton Hospital, who moved to the University of Lincoln in 2006. 

The study was initially commissioned to inform policy development around the management of individuals who might be considered to have a DSPD. The driving question was ‘to what extent could measures of personality disorder and risk be validly used to understand and predict future violent or sexual offending with intellectually disabled populations?’

It was the largest systematic study of its kind to examine the applicability of risk and personality factors with offenders with a learning disability.

In total, 12 measures of risk and personality were collated from 212 patients across three levels of security, including ratings of violent or aggressive behaviour.

For a number of the measures, it was necessary to develop specialised training and recommendations, many of which now form the accepted professional practice for working with prison and secure populations. Guidelines developed by the group on the psychological assessment tool used to rate psychopathy, the Psychopathy Checklist Revised, are now used as the standard professional guidance when using this measure with intellectually disabled offenders.

Patient behaviour was monitored for outbursts of violence over six months and the obtained measures used to predict the likelihood of violent behaviour and institutional progress. The central findings indicated that the personality and risk measures could be validly used with a learning disabled population. This new clinical knowledge and the modified assessment techniques that followed benefit a range of professionals working with offenders who have an intellectual disability and are applicable across prison, health service and community settings.

The ultimate impact of the study is that there is a better understanding of how the risks presented by offenders with an intellectual disability are assessed, understood and managed. This has a significant impact for both offenders and the general public, by ensuring the more accurate prediction and management of the risk of future violence.

A number of the core assessments evaluated in the study are now used as part of the routine assessment procedure at the National High Secure Learning Disability Service at Rampton Hospital and within Intellectual Disability Services at the Partnership in Care Group. The write-up of the project continues and the Forensic and Clinical Research Group is in the process of developing a ten-year follow-up of the sample.

The findings of the study have been used to inform professional training and international policy development in this area and a number of influential volumes have cited the work.

The research programme has significantly impacted on professional practice and has resulted in the development of new professional guidelines, including influencing forthcoming practice guidelines for the implementation of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.