Speech and Language Therapy in Criminal Justice: A Pilot Study
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Speech and Language Therapy in Criminal Justice: A Pilot Study Rachel Iredale, Harriet Pierpoint & Beth Parow. Speech and Language Disorders. Speech disorders:

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Speech and Language Therapy in Criminal Justice: A Pilot Study

Rachel Iredale, Harriet Pierpoint & Beth Parow

Speech and language disorders
Speech and Language Disorders Study

Speech disorders:

  • Articulation disorders, e.g. difficulties in producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point at which other people cannot understand what is being said

  • Fluency disorders, e.g. stuttering

  • Voice disorders, e.g. problems with the pitch, volume or quality of a person’s voice that distract listeners from what is being said

    Language disorders:

  • Difficulties in understanding or processing language

  • Difficulty in putting words together

  • An inability to use language in a socially appropriate way

Background Study

Communication disorders are positively associated with:

low attainment

behavioural problems

mental health issues

poor employment prospects

criminal behaviour.

To date, research studies have focussed on basic skills needs and conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

The majority of available research has utilised quantitative methodologies, focussing on convicted offenders

Aims of study
Aims of Study Study

  • To pilot methods and assessments that could be used in a larger study in a community setting

  • To identify offenders who may have speech and language difficulties

  • To identify what specific problems are experienced by offenders with speech and language difficulties moving through the criminal justice system

Original intentions
Original Intentions Study

Explore possible impact of S&L difficulties by interviewing offenders to find examples of times when they had difficulty understanding the language used, or had difficulty expressing themselves

Bring together Magistrates Courts, Youth Offending Teams and the Probation Service

Begin data collection in Magistrates’ Courts

Assess 80 offenders to identify 20 with communication difficulties

Follow up assessments with face-to-face interviews

Hold a focus group to discuss communication difficulties in the criminal justice system and what can be done to address these issues

Getting started
Getting Started ….. Study

18 months ago very few people discussing this issue

No SLT at Glamorgan. Secondment from NHS necessary

Difficulties in attracting funding for community-based research

Six months to apply for necessary approvals

Approval was granted by the Faculty Ethics Committee at UoG and NOMS

Local permissions were obtained from Pontypridd Probation Service

Study design
Study Design Study

Secondment to UoG from NHS (Beth Parow)

Focus only on Probation Service (Pontypridd)

Project explained to managers and staff at the Lifelong Learning Centre

Information sheet emailed to all probation workers

Accessible information sheet/consent form written for offenders

Assessment and interview would take place at the same time

Recruitment Study

On the recommendation of staff


Observation by the SLT of their interaction with staff or peers

10 participants

7 males and 3 females

Aged 21-49, average age 31

What we learnt about recruitment
What We Learnt about Recruitment? Study

Time and effort required

Effect on researcher

Area that is new to SLTs (limited knowledge; reliance on staff that offenders trust)

Participants unlikely to attend pre-arranged appointments

Vouchers help

Choosing the assessments
Choosing the Assessments Study

Mount Wilga assessment

Pool table narrative assessment

MCLA vocabulary assessment

Observation of communication skills (Broadmoor)

The language assessments took 30-45 minutes to complete

Aspects of the assessments
Aspects of the Assessments: Study

Vocabulary naming skills: naming pictures, e.g. aerial.

Re-telling a sequence of events “Tell me how to set up an pool table for a game of pool and tell me how you win”.

Explaining the meanings of idioms, e.g. ‘turn over a new leaf’, ‘butterflies in your stomach’.

Listening to, and answering questions about a story.

Making sense of complex sentences, e.g. ‘I had breakfast after I spoke to Kate. What did I do first?’

Make a sentence with given words, e.g. left, became, work.

Social communication skills (assessed by observation).

Speech clarity (assessed through observation).

Interview questions
Interview Questions Study

Can you remember a time when you couldn’t understand what people were saying at court/ probation?

Can you remember a time when you couldn’t explain what you wanted to say at court/ probation?

Who and what would have made it easier for you to understand/explain what you wanted to say in court/probation?

Data analysis
Data Analysis Study


Were analysed using scoring guidelines

Scores were classified as ‘within normal limits’ or ‘moderately low/severely low’

Offenders were identified as having difficulties with expressive language and comprehension


Were analysed for emerging themes

Themes included:

Type of communication difficulty

Communication partners/ location

The impact of communication difficulties

Suggestions for addressing these difficulties

Preliminary results assessments
Preliminary Results: Assessments Study

All participants scored below average on three or more of six subtests

5 scored below average on four or more subtests

7 had difficulties with comprehension subtests

4 had difficulties with all expressive language subtests

3 had difficulties with both comprehension and expressive language

Preliminary results assessments1
Preliminary Results: Assessments Study

Non verbal skills, conversational skills and speech

5 had at least one low score for their non-verbal communication skills (gesture, eye-contact)

5 had at least one low score for their conversational skills (topic maintenance, relevance)

2 had speech sound difficulties (intelligibility, volume)

1 had a stutter (mild)

Only 3 had skills that would be expected in the general public

Interview findings
Interview Findings Study

Expressive language difficulties (n=4)

‘I get muddled on my words terrible. I do. I'm like… like yesterday, I had to say things and I mean it different. It comes out wrong, so wrong’

‘I just can’t get … you know, I can’t use the words and get the words out what I want to use, you know it is hard, awful hard’

‘But when I’ve had to explain something and I can’t remember it, because I’ve been drunk half the time like …’

Interview findings1
Interview Findings Study

Comprehension difficulties (n=8)

‘Sometimes it’s easier to switch off’

‘The judge was speaking to me in their language, which I couldn’t understand …. I couldn’t understand what he was saying’

‘I can remember he went on and on for about half an hour on his summing up and I didn’t have a clue what he was on about’

‘There were times I wasn’t sure if I was going to jail; or not when they said suspended sentence’

Interview findings2
Interview findings Study

What would help?

‘Be a lot more patient with different people. Explain the different ways instead of using big massive words, so people can understand them’

‘You feel stupid sometimes but I mean that is what you have got to do if you don’t understand, you have got to ask haven’t you’.

‘And ask the person “Are you sure you understand me?” “Do you want me to explain it in a different word way?”’

Interview findings3
Interview findings Study

Being understood

‘I did have a barrister at the time, and he was right on the ball like. He turned around and said ‘Yeah, she is a bit slow and different things, but she does understand people if you talk to her properly’, innit’

‘And my probation officer, I feel like I can talk to her…… so it makes a big, big difference’

Interview findings4
Interview findings Study

The impact of communication difficulties (n=6)

  • ‘If I’m too quick with my words, or I get… if I can’t get something out I’ll get nastyish and then…’

  • ‘Do you know what I mean, and you just get agitated then do you know what I mean? That’s when you find yourself in trouble then like’

  • ‘And then you think ‘Oh God, I had better turn around and say can you explain it in a different way’’

  • ‘I shout .. Oh yeah …I don’t mean to .. But I say ‘Fuck this’ … and made it worse for me, haven’t I by doing that like …’

Vocabulary assessment
Vocabulary Assessment Study

Words Tested: Bail, Adjourn, Concurrent, Alleged, Breach, Comply, Suspended, Licence ……..

Reparation: Only 1 person attempted to define this word

Compensation: 70% thought it was money they should receive. Only 30% viewed it in terms of compensating victims of crimes

Remorse: 30% did not understand this word

Revocation: 30% understood what it means to have an order revoked

Custodial: 40% did not understand this word, despite one having been in prison

Tentative conclusions
Tentative Conclusions Study

Existing evidence suggests many offenders have communication disorders

Crudest measures reveal problems with comprehension and expression

Consequences for all criminal justice agencies

Sentences in the community often predicated on understanding, explaining and discussion

SLTs may have a role to play in future service delivery, e.g. helping offenders complete their orders

Low levels of awareness in criminal justice agencies about speech and language disorders sentences and reducing re-offending

Project limitations
Project Limitations Study


Length of time to get approvals

Small number of participants

Range of recruitment methods


Lack of assessments available for this age group

Some incomplete assessments

Brief assessments. More detailed assessments needed to give diagnoses

What next
What next? Study

Sharing findings with others

SLT community

Magistrates’ Courts (all users)

Trainers (JPs and legal advisors)

Probation services (relationship between S&L disorders and completion of orders)

Future projects

Bigger sample sizes

Different assessments


Contact details
Contact Details Study

Dr Rachel Iredale

[email protected]

Dr Harriet Pierpoint

[email protected]

Ms Beth Parow

[email protected]