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Suspect with mild learning disability has difficulty obtaining the right care and reoffends

The life course study Lifelong Obstacles from the NSCR reveals that two-thirds of suspects with a mild learning disability (MLD) reoffend. This group is often confronted with a gradually growing set of problems in various areas and experiences difficulties in finding appropriate care. The study calls into question whether the criminal justice system is the most effective route for suspects with an MLD.

Lifelong Obstacles is the first life course study in the Netherlands into young people with an MLD who have bene in trouble with the law in their youth. How do they get on in life ten years after completing a youth rehabilitation order? Legal documentation reveals that two-thirds of the study population (N=120) reoffends. The chances of this are greatest in the first two to three years after completing the youth rehabilitation order. The reoffenders frequently commit a property or violence offence, after which a prison sentence is usually imposed.

Young people with MLD suffer from multiple problems and build up debt

The study reveals an imbalance between the government “order” to participate in society and the autonomy desired by young people with an MLD, as well as their ability or inability to cope. Gradually, a multiple set of problems arises in areas of life such as living, working, finances, mental health, drug use and leisure time, but also in contact with the police and the prosecution service. As a result of these factors, a large proportion of the study population builds up debt. Although people with an MLD are regularly in contact with various welfare organisations, it still proves difficult to find the help that matches their specific needs. The outcomes of the help provided are not always positive. The risk of care being discontinued is high, and the help provided is often interrupted by periods of imprisonment.

Impact of an MLD possibly underestimated

Supervisors of MLD rehabilitation clients find their work with this group hard going. Similarly, people with an MLD find it hard to be supervised. Overestimating the possibilities and high or excessive expectations play a role on both sides. Organisations possibly also underestimate the impact of having an MLD. If the probation supervision has not proceeded adequately, it proves unclear what the public prosecutor will subsequently decide with respect to imposing a conditional sentence. The impact this has on the criminal career of the client also remains unclear.

Is the criminal justice system the right approach for suspects with an MLD?

Finally, the life course study provides indications for a correlation between contact with the criminal justice system and an increase in the set of multiple problems. This therefore calls into question whether the criminal justice system is the most effective route for suspects with an MLD. In the coming year, NSCR will start a study into possible alternatives. 

Publication details and further reading

Teeuwen, M., Bruggeman, M., Dirkse, M. & Malsch, M. (2020). Levenslange obstakels: een levensloopstudie naar licht verstandelijk beperkten in het strafrecht en in de zorg. (Lifelong obstacles: a life course study in mild learning difficulties in criminal law and in care.)

drs. Marigo Teeuwen

Researcher

Merel Dirkse MSc

Prof. Marijke Malsch LL.M.

Senior Researcher

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