Speech and Language Therapy in Criminal Justice: A Pilot Study Rachel Iredale, Harriet Pierpoint & Beth Parow. Speech and Language Disorders. Speech disorders:
Rachel Iredale, Harriet Pierpoint & Beth Parow
Communication disorders are positively associated with:
mental health issues
poor employment prospects
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
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
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
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
On the recommendation of staff
Observation by the SLT of their interaction with staff or peers
7 males and 3 females
Aged 21-49, average age 31
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
Mount Wilga assessment
Pool table narrative assessment
MCLA vocabulary assessment
Observation of communication skills (Broadmoor)
The language assessments took 30-45 minutes to complete
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).
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?
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
Type of communication difficulty
Communication partners/ location
The impact of communication difficulties
Suggestions for addressing these difficulties
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
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
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 …’
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’
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?”’
‘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’
The impact of communication difficulties (n=6)
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
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
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
Sharing findings with others
Magistrates’ Courts (all users)
Trainers (JPs and legal advisors)
Probation services (relationship between S&L disorders and completion of orders)
Bigger sample sizes