Memorandum submitted by the Royal College
of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT)
1. People with communication disorders have
understanding the spoken or written
word, or other non-verbal communication;
expressing themselves through speech
or writing or other non-verbal communication;
language functions affecting their
ability to express all they want to get over in a meaningful and
appropriate way; and
interacting with others in socially
Communication difficulties have a large impact
on the formation of relationships and can often lead to behavioural
problems. These preventable and treatable difficulties have determining
role on an individual's life course, with a significant impact
on education attainment, employability, mental health and offending
There is significant evidence that juvenile
offenders and prisoners are far more likely to be at risk for
language impairment than the general population.
2. Speaking and listening skills are essential
for offenders to cope with the demands the prison regime, and
participate fully in educational provision and behaviour programmes
designed to reduce re-offending.
Speech and language therapy intervention uses an
individualised goal setting approach and focuses on enabling young
people with speech, language and communication problems in coping
with the verbal and communication demands of prison. For young
offenders, speech and language therapists can meet developmental
difficulties to avert a persistent association with crime throughout
3. There are currently very few speech and
language therapists employed within the prison service to fully
support all people with communication needs.
RCSLT recommends that speech and language therapy
should be available within all Young Offender Institutions.
1. Communication difficulties can greatly
affect the formation of relationships and can often lead to behavioural
problems. These preventable difficulties have a major impact on
the individual's life chances and pose a financial burden on the
organizations and agencies that support the children, young people
and eventually adults including the criminal justice system and
mental health services.
2. Evidence emerging over the last decade
indicates that juvenile offenders are likely to be at significant
risk for previously unrecognized language impairment (Bryan 2004)
but oral language competence has not been systematically investigated
in the UK prison population. Speaking and listening skills are
necessary for offenders to cope with the demands of education
provision and offending behaviour programmes designed to reduce
re-offending. It is also important that specific disabilities
and special education needs including difficulties with speech
are recognized in order to comply with the Disability Discrimination
Act (2005). Both the Youth Justice Board and the DfES recognize
that identification of needs and provision for special educational
needs is important (www.dfes.gov.uk/sen).
3. A national study carried out in 2001-02
showed that the recidivism rates were reduced by as much as 50%
for prisoners who are supported to improve their oral language
skills in their first year after release (Moseley 2006). There
are currently very few speech and language therapists employed
within the prison service to implement such a programme nationally.
4. The Government has provided an estimated
£130 million budget for prison education to improve literacy
skills (Lee 2006). While this is extremely welcome, recent studies
show that up to 60% of offenders are unable to benefit from these
programmes because of their low level of language skills (Ryan
2002). The money would be more efficiently used if SLTs were able
to identify timely and appropriate support for offenders whose
language skills are below those needed to access current programs.
The identification of this group can be efficiently carried out
using a screening tool, such as the Communication Assessment for
Adults in a Forensic Setting (CAAFS: Barber, Holden and Hotham
UK PRISON POPULATION
5. Whilst studies of offenders speaking
and listening skills have used populations of young people in
different countries over various age ranges, research consistently
indicate that oral language difficulties for young people who
are failing at school or who are often labelled as having "behaviour"
5.1. Humber and Snow (2001) used a group
of 15 male adolescents in Australia aged 13-21 serving community
orders and showed that inferences and understanding metaphor were
significantly lower for the offender group than for the age and
education matched control group. None of the sample was receiving
intervention for language difficulties.
5.2. Snow and Powell (2004) used the same
tests on a larger sample of seventy 13-21 year olds serving community
orders and found that they were on average functioning two years
below their peer group even when matched for years of schooling.
Snow and Powell 2004, 2005 suggest that high-risk adolescents
whose conduct disturbances bring them into contact with the law
are likely to display difficulties in understanding and using
abstract language (eg idioms, metaphor), using narrative discourse
to organize and convey new information to a listener, word finding
difficulties, and grammatical immaturity relative to their non-offending
peers. Similar findings were apparent in a population of UK juvenile
offenders described later in this paper.
5.3. Some studies have examined language
abilities in children at risk of offending. Cohen and co-workers
in Canada (Cohen et al 1993; Vallance et al 1999)
have reported that around 50% of children and adolescents receiving
services for a range of adjustment disorders (eg behaviour disturbances,
anxiety disorders) actually display language impairments when
specifically tested. Cohen has speculated that the combination
of language and behaviour disturbance results in a disproportionate
"favouring" of behaviour when allocation and delivery
of intervention services is considered. This means that high-risk
children may receive services aimed at ameliorating their behaviour
problems, but there may be little or no attention paid to development
of language comprehension and expression. This in turn reduces
the likelihood of school engagement, thus lessening the access
that high-risk young people have to the protective effects of
5.4. Beitchman et al (1999) suggests
that communication difficulties tend to be misinterpreted as non-compliance
and conduct problems in the classroom environment, and Whitmire
(2000) suggests that adolescents with language disorders are vulnerable
to problems in developing peer and family relationships, as well
as in meeting the expectations and demands of school.
5.5. Sanger et al (2003) suggested
that language difficulties were not being recognised and that
communication problems tended to be labelled within terms such
as "lazy" or "out of control". They also suggested
that language and communication skills should be investigated
in adolescents who are experiencing social and/or schooling difficulties.
Sanger et al 2001 recommend that SLT's are represented
on teams planning for adolescent offenders.
5.6. A recent study of juvenile offenders
in the UK is reported in detail in Appendix 2.
6. The link between disadvantage in the
early years and language difficulties later affecting school performance
has been highlighted (Locke, Ginsborg and Peers 2002). Persistent
difficulty with language development has been linked with a greater
chance than normal of the development of both mental health problems
and involvement in criminal activities although this remains a
contentious area for research. A longitudinal study by Clegg,
Hollis and Rutter (1999) showed that a third of children with
developmental language disorders studied, developed mental health
problems with resulting criminal involvement in some cases.
7. There is an urgent need for evidence-based
interventions with young people within the wider criminal justice
system (including those who have offended as well as those deemed
at risk of offending), so that unmet developmental difficulties
can be addressed to maximise opportunities for gainful participation
in society and to avert the adoption of an ongoing adult "lifestyle"
associated with persistent crime (Ward and Stewart 2003).
8. It is already recognised that attempting
to improve literacy and social skills is essential to prevent
further offending (Venard et al 1997). Speech and language
therapy interventions can help prevent and reduce the re-offending
rate by increasing their oral communication skills (Crace 2006)
in order to access a wider range of rehabilitation programmes
and education, and subsequently are empowered to change their
9. Speech, language and communication reflect
complex sets of skills, which are developed and refined through
life in first language speakers. There are many reasons why a
child or young person may have difficulty in acquiring these skills
or in using them. The relationship between oral and written language
skills is also complex and it should not be assumed that limited
skills in one denote limited skills in the other, although this
may be the case (Bryan, in press).
10. SLT intervention used an individualised
goal setting approach and focussed on enabling young people with
speech, language and communication problems to cope with the verbal
demands of the regime. Young people with very low levels of language
ability are likely to particularly struggle with verbally mediated
interventions and may need access to SLT if their education and
skill development programme is to address their individual needs.
Increasingly juveniles and young offenders are recognised as being
people with complex and multifaceted problems, as the Government's
Green Paper on Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment
11. Lack of communication skills appears
relevant to concerns about the effectiveness of interventions
for juvenile offenders (Youth Justice Board 2004) and the high
levels of withdrawal and non-attendance in relation to educational
provision (HMSO 2006).
12. Pilot services established that SLT
could be successfully delivered within the context of a young
offender institution and that the value to the regime could be
demonstrated (Bryan et al 2004). However, more research
is needed to establish the most effective ways of delivering SLT
to the juvenile offender population. (See case examples in Appendix
13. Prison education needs to move from
general group provision to a form of educational provision that
addresses individual profiles of difficulties. Speech therapists
are able to assess individuals, in order to address communication
skills and identify ways to enhance engagement through this route
14. Speech therapists can provide prison
staff with skills to communicate with young people with low language
abilities, which is essential in order to deliver effective care.
Skills for Life staff may also require training and support to
enhance their awareness of these language and communication issues,
and to enable them to manage these difficulties within the provision
offered. Support from speech and language therapy to tailor programmes
and to offer specialist input in some cases should be available
within Skills for Life provision.
15. We therefore suggest that SLT should
be available within all YOI's. This would support staffing education
to extend their provision to young people with specific learning
disabilities and to those with pervasive developmental disorders.
It would also enable the wider prison staff to achieve effective
communication with the young people they care for. Increasing
oral communication competency would also facilitate increased
engagement in programmes intended to prevent further offending,
which are verbally mediated.