Does the criminal justice system treat disabled people fairly?

My name is Danny, I’m 64 now and I have done a total of 22 year, 9 months in prison.  I wonder if you’re picturing a mean, tough guy, ready for a fight, and not much fun to be around?

That’s not me.  I’m small and wiry, softly spoken and am told I have a dry sense of humour.

I also have a learning disability which no one knew about back then.

The first time I went to prison was in my teens when I failed to pay a fine.  No one checked that I knew I had to pay, could write a cheque or organise my money.  I couldn’t do any of these things so I was arrested and put in prison.

When I was in prison, I couldn’t read the rules so I learnt them by getting into trouble, spending a while in segregation as punishment, and then not repeating that mistake!

I found that once I had learnt the rules, prison was better than being outside without support and worrying about everything.  In prison I didn’t have to worry about money or getting through the day.

Sometimes prison was pretty grim, for example, I hid in the kitchen for 3 days during the Strangeways riots.  Most of the time though, I felt safer in prison than outside.

Once after being released, I was so desperate to get back into prison that I got drunk, put a brick through my own solicitor’s window and called the Police myself.

Fast forward to today…My life is much better now.  My disability has been recognised, and I have had support to get things organised.  I spend some time now telling my story and helping make the criminal justice system better for people with learning disabilities.

But, my life could have been so different; so much time has been wasted.

What if my learning disability had been recognised and I had been supported to pay that fine and organise my life all those years ago?  I might never have experienced prison or the fear of feeling ‘lost’ in a world I struggled to understand. Surely that would have been fair!

What if I had been given a chance to tell the judge that I didn’t understand what was being said and done?  What if I had been given support to tell things from my point of view?  Surely that would have been a fair trial?

The Human Rights Act says everyone has a right to a fair trial!

The Equality and Human Rights Commission work in the UK to make things fairer.  They are asking people with disabilities about their recent experience of the Criminal Justice System.

This is very important, especially at a time when so many things are being done online.  We need the Government to remember that many people with learning disabilities don’t use computers, and find reading and writing difficult.  We also need them to know that people need support from someone in the same room as them – this can’t be online as it’s just not the same!

So, if you or anyone you know has recent experience of the Criminal Justice System please do answer the questions they ask.

You can find everything you need here – including information about how to get an easy read version of the questions.

 

Danny is a member of the Working for Justice Group, for more information about their work, please contact Neisha.Betts@KeyRing.org