Valuing People Now - Extracts on Disability Hate Crime

In addition, we very much welcome the commitment to a programme of work to improve the skills of the criminal justice system in working with people with learning disabilities. However, it would be helpful for Valuing People Now to include more information on what is envisaged for this programme. The commitment to this programme is mentioned in paragraph 2.3.3 in the Executive Summary of Valuing People Now, but it is not mentioned in the relevant section in the main body of the document. As the Including Everyone section refers only to offenders and prisoners with learning disabilities, it would be reasonable to conclude that the training programme is only in reference to training on these groups. However, we believe that it is equally important for criminal justice professionals to receive training on victims and witnesses with learning disabilities. Our organisations regularly train police forces and Crown Prosecution Service staff on learning disabilities and advanced interview techniques. From this experience we have observed the general lack of knowledge of learning disabilities amongst criminal justice professionals and how valuable they find training on assisting people with learning disabilities.

While we have found that some criminal justice professionals are committed to improving how they assist people with learning disabilities, training on disabilities is not always provided to frontline staff because:

As the Association of Chief Police Officers has noted:

"It can be argued that there should be further training available for officers to help them identify and deal with learning disabilities. However, this needs to be set against the fiscal climate that the service operates in. There is insufficient funding available for additional training to be developed and delivered to all officers nationally."

(Memorandum by the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, 19 November 2007)

In this context, leadership and funding are vital if training is to be delivered and so if there is to be a consequent improvement in people with learning disabilities' experiences of the criminal justice system.

Valuing People Now does note the value of staff training as a way of improving criminal justice responses to disability hate crime (paragraph 12.1.1.2). Yet hate crime is only one area - people with learning disabilities are more likely to be the victims of a variety of crimes because of their perceived vulnerability and increased chance of being socially marginalised. This is not noted in Valuing People Now and we believe that it would be an important addition to the document.

Our organisations therefore ask that Valuing People Now include a Government commitment to provide frontline criminal justice professionals with training on learning disabilities and to provide additional funding for this training to be delivered. As part of this, training should be provided on how special measures under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 can enable people with learning disabilities to give their best evidence. As the responsibility for meeting such a commitment will rest with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice (including the Office for Criminal Justice Reform), we urge the Department of Health to make representations to these Departments on this matter and work with them to ensure this training is appropriately delivered.

We urge the Government to include within Valuing People Now action on improving the experiences of the criminal justice system of all people with learning disabilities, be they witnesses, victims, offenders or suspects. This is a topic we touch on below in our request for action on safeguarding within Valuing People Now and our comments on the disability hate crime sub-section of Valuing People Now. We believe that action on safeguarding and crime are vital if the other objectives are to be achieved.

People as Local Citizens

Our organisations very much welcome the inclusion within Valuing People Now of a section on disability hate crime. Such crimes affect people with learning disabilities on a daily basis. They can traumatise their victims and prevent people with learning disabilities fully participating in their communities. Disability hate crimes represent a fundamental denial of human rights and are the extreme expression of an ugly prejudice against people with learning disabilities. Yet, disability hatred is only one of the causes of crime and abuse against people with learning disabilities. We have noted elsewhere in this response the need for Valuing People Now to address the wider picture of crime and abuse through action on safeguarding and on equal access to justice. Addressing this wider picture will obviously have positive outcomes in relation to tackling disability hate crime.

As noted in paragraph 12.1.1.2, it is certainly true that people with learning disabilities can find it difficult to report crime because police processes can be inaccessible or unwelcoming. However, this is only part of the reason why people with learning disabilities do not report crimes or have trouble doing so. It is unfortunately the case that some police officers are dismissive, inaccessible and / or unwelcoming towards people with learning disabilities and any reports of crimes that they make. In our experience, there are many cases where this leads to crimes not being recorded and / or not being investigated by the police. In our experience, people with learning disabilities who have encountered this sort of response from the police are also less likely to report crimes in future. Training for police officers is likely to be an effective remedy to this problem and we are pleased that this is noted in this section. We also recommend that Valuing People Now call for the establishment of more third party reporting sites to allow people with learning disabilities to report crimes indirectly to the police.

A further challenge in relation to reporting of disability hate crimes is that some people with learning disabilities do not realise that the crimes that are committed against them are crimes. Instead, they see these crimes as a normal part of their everyday lives. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships, in conjunction with learning disability partnership boards and local self-advocacy groups, should be encouraged and funded to provide training for people with learning disabilities on their rights, what behaviour is criminal, how to report a crime and what response to expect from criminal justice agencies. We believe that this can help to empower people with learning disabilities in their interactions with the criminal justice system.

The challenges we identify above, and which are identified in 12.1.1.2, apply equally to all crimes against people with learning disabilities. We therefore hope these challenges can be addressed in Valuing People Now as part of efforts to address this wider context of crime and abuse.

We also strongly suspect that many criminal justice professionals, in particular police officers, have little or no understanding of disability hate crime. We fear that this results in criminal justice professionals not identifying that a crime is a disability hate crime and so not investigating more deeply to establish if prejudice or hostility based on disability formed part of the motive. Again, this is an issue that could be addressed through training. We also urge the Government to include within the guidance mentioned at 12.1.2.2 an instruction to police officers to fully probe the background and circumstances of crimes against people with learning disabilities to determine if a disability hate crime has occurred.

However, while there are serious challenges and issues, we want it to be noted that criminal justice professionals are making efforts to deal with these challenges and issues. Some police forces are doing excellent work to tackle disability hate crime with input from people with disabilities. The Association of Chief Police Officers has also shown a strong desire to tackle these crimes and has recently agreed new definitions of hate crimes. Also, the work of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform's Race for Justice team has been valuable. In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing a dedicated programme to improve its response to all hate crimes (which includes training for prosecutors) and we are hopeful that this will yield positive results.

Paragraph 12.1.1.2 is right to raise the issue of the recording of disability hate crime incidents against people with learning disabilities and that effective recording is vital to effectively addressing hate crime. In its recent report on the human rights of adults with learning disabilities, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that "steps be taken to gather more consistent data on the level of crime against people with learning disabilities, either through a survey sponsored by the Home Office, or as part of the British Crime Survey" (paragraph 204). Our organisations believe that the British Crime Survey could be an effective means of gathering this information and have been working with the Home Office to make this survey more accessible to people with learning disabilities. We would be happy to speak to the Valuing People team about this work. Again, the issue of the recording of crime is an issue that applies to all crimes against people with learning disabilities and not just disability hate crime.

A challenge which it is vital to meet if disability hate crime is to be prevented is the prejudice against learning disabilities which exists in society. There is much in Valuing People Now, which seeks to challenge prejudices and stereotypes, for instance in particular profession. However, there is no overall approach or action to educate and inform the general public about learning disabilities. We strongly urge the Government to launch a public information campaign on learning disabilities and the experiences of people with learning disabilities. Such a campaign should inform the public about the existence of disability hate crime and its consequences for victims. Our organisations believe that public condemnation of disability hate crime generally, and in individual cases, is necessary to tackle the prejudice which feeds these crimes.

An issue which is not identified in Valuing People Now is the application of s146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Our organisations believe that it is highly likely that s146 is not being applied in all successful prosecutions for crimes in which hostility or prejudice based upon the victim's learning disabilities formed at least part of the motive. This means that people with learning disabilities are being denied justice and offenders are being spared their appropriate punishment. Crucially, the application of s146 in all appropriate cases would send a message that disability hate crime is unacceptable in our society and would challenge the prejudice which causes such crimes.

Our fears about the application of s146 are based upon compelling, if very crude, comparisons between the limited data available on disability hate crimes. Mencap's Living in Fear (2000) research found that 88% of people with learning disabilities had reported being bullied in the past year, with 66% being bulled on a monthly basis and 32% being bullied on a daily basis. Although this bullying might involve non-criminal acts, it is worth noting that 23% of respondents reported physical assault (i.e. a criminal offence). Valuing People notes that there are about 1.2 million people with mild to moderate learning disabilities (paragraph 1.8). A very rough estimate might therefore be about 1,056,000 people with learning disabilities being bullied a year, of which 276,000 are assaulted. This works out at 138,000 assaults over a six-month period. This can then be compared with figures from the Crown Prosecution Service which show 68 prosecutions for disability hate crimes between April and September 2007 (i.e. over the first six months for which data is available).

These estimates of disability hate crimes affecting people with learning disabilities are, by necessity, extremely rough and should be treated with caution. However, even accounting for the rough nature of these estimates, there appears to be a large discrepancy between the number of people with learning disabilities experiencing disability hate crime and the number of recorded prosecutions. This discrepancy is most likely accounted for by the issues and challenges identified in Valuing People Now and our comments above. Valuing People Now must address this issue of prosecutions in cooperation with other public bodies.

Lastly, social care professionals can make a valuable contribution to tackling disability hate crime against people with learning disabilities. They can do this through assisting victims as well as providing training on keeping safe and people's rights. In particular, they can assist victims of disability hate and other crimes in moving past the trauma they have experienced by commissioning therapy for them. We ask that these roles are noted in Valuing People Now and the national guidance mentioned at 12.1.2.2.

Our organisations are pleased that the Home Office and Department of Health will be working together to produce national guidance for the criminal justice system and local authorities on disability hate crime. However, we are unclear how this will fit in with the dedicated cross-government strategy on hate crime announced last month in Saving Lives. Reducing Harm. Protecting the Public. An Action Plan for Tackling Violence 2008-11 and with the work of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform's Race for Justice group. Additional details on the scope and production of this guidance would be welcome. We also ask that stakeholders be involved in producing this guidance and that there is coordination across Government regarding all the guidance on hate crime being produced.

We also note that training for criminal justice professionals is not included within the action summary on disability hate crime and ask for it to be added.