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Offenders: Learning Disability

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will introduce systematic screening of offenders for (a) learning disabilities and (b) learning difficulties; and if he will make a statement. (250939)

The issues of learning disability and learning difficulty are matters where my Department works closely with the Department of Health, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Welsh Assembly Government.

The National Offender Management Service and the Department of Health are shortly to pilot a simple screening tool aimed at identifying the possibility of a learning disability. The results of piloting in three prisons will then inform plans for implementing a screening tool across all care settings in the criminal justice system.

In current use with offenders, section 4 of the Offender Assessment System (OASys), assesses level of problems with reading, writing and numeracy and any learning difficulties. OASys is used with offenders sentenced to over 12 months in custody, or on a community sentence, excluding unpaid work.

Through the Learning and Skills Council, we are broadening the assessment requirement for learning difficulties that is placed on offender learning and skills service providers with effect from August 2009. With Dyslexia Action, the Learning and Skills Council is developing tools to identify additional learning needs and a training programme to support their use by its offender learning and skills service providers’ staff. This is a matter also under consideration in Wales.

For young people in custody, we intend to place statutory duties on local authorities to fund and commission education in juvenile custody (in England and Wales) and this will include legislation relating to those with special educational needs. In the meantime, we are developing training materials on dyslexia and speech, language and communication needs during 2009-10 for those responsible for education of young people in custody.

To support this greater focus on screening for learning disabilities and difficulties, my Department has worked with the Department of Health to trial a one-day training course for prison officers, aimed increasing awareness of these issues. The training is being rolled out nationally, focused on key staff within each prison: the disability liaison officer; a member of the health care team and a member of the induction team.

Work is also under way to tailor the awareness package for use in probation areas. The training materials to support the probation training are currently under discussion with roll out of the training planned for later this year.