It is estimated that 7% of the prison population in the UK has a learning disability, compared to 2.2% of the general population. Out of the Shadows by Polly Braden and Sally Williams, co-produced by Multistory, tells the story of ten individuals who got caught up in the criminal justice system
It is estimated that 7% of the prison population in the UK has a learning disability, compared to around 2.2% of the general population. A study by Prison Reform Trust in 2008 found that people with learning disabilities are seven times more likely to come into contact with the police, five times more likely to be subject to control and restraint, and three times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, and spend time in solitary confinement.
These numbers are estimates rather than straight statistics because there is often no system in place to screen, identify, and record whether a prisoner has a learning disability. In a research paper from 2005, psychologist John Rack estimated that around 20% of prisoners have some form of “hidden disability” which affects their performance in education and work settings. It’s worryingly disproportionate, and it begs the question – if prisons don’t have systems in place to even identify these people, how can they begin to give them the support they need to survive in a prison environment?
“It was really shocking. I had no idea that people with learning disabilities got sent to prison before I started this project,” says Polly Braden, who for the last two years has been investigating what happens to the people who “slip through the net”, whose disabilities aren’t “bad enough” to get help.
Four years ago, while working on Great Interactions, a book about people with learning disabilities, Braden met a man who was in danger of running into trouble with the police. People with learning disabilities can struggle to understand, and to be understood by others, so it’s all too easy for them to get into trouble, says Braden. “It made me wonder what happens to people who get lost in this system.”
Working with arts organisation Multistory and writer Sally Williams, Braden met with KeyRing, a charity that supports ex-offenders with learning disabilities. They ran workshops in several support groups, explaining the project and how people could be involved. “It took a long time to find the right people,” says Braden. “Consent was a major issue, because people are telling very sensitive stories.”