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An event exploring the issues surrounding people with learning disabilities who come into contact with criminal justice agencies has been held in Gloucester.

The conference – organised by the Gloucestershire Learning Disabilities and Criminal Justice Group – included the launch of a new leaflet aimed at helping anyone with learning disabilities who is taken into police custody.

Guest speakers at the event, held at Oxstalls Tennis Centre in the city yesterday (Jan 15), included representatives from the ²gether NHS Foundation Trust, Mencap, HM Prison Gloucester and Tascor – the agency that supplies custody detention officers within Gloucestershire’s Police Stations.

Jonathan Thomas, Community Services Manager for the ²gether NHS Foundation Trust, who chairs the organising group, said it had been a very worthwhile event.

“It is estimated that between 20 and 30 per cent of people who commit criminal offences have some form of learning difficulty,” Jonathan said.

“Being arrested and placed in police cells is an unnerving experience for anyone, and can be even more difficult if you don’t understand what is happening or what your rights are.

“The police and Tascor obviously try to support people who perhaps cannot read or understand instructions, but sometimes people do not admit to having a learning disability. They may also not request an appropriate adult or solicitor because they don’t understand they have the right to or appreciate why having such professionals to support them is important.

“The court process can be similarly confusing for people with learning disabilities, and then further support is required while people go through their sentence – whether that be in prison or out in the community.

“We, and the other agencies within the group, wanted to explore these issues further and, as well as launch our new leaflet, try and see what is already being done and what else can be done to both support people going through the criminal justice system and ultimately try and prevent them from committing offences.”

The leaflet was produced by staff from Tascor, ²gether, and Gloucestershire Constabulary as well as a group of people with learning disabilities, in order to ensure it was fit for purpose.

Alyson Keane, Team Leader with Tascor, which provides custody detention officers in the police cells at Cheltenham, Gloucester and Stroud, led the production of the leaflet.

She said: “We realised that there are relatively high numbers of people taken into custody who cannot understand some of the processes we go through in the cells and struggle to understand their rights and other important information.

“After some careful research we’ve produced three leaflets – one for each custody suite in the county – so that anyone who needs some help in understanding what will happen to them while they are in custody and afterwards will have easy access to all the information they need in a format that is easy for them to understand.”