Although exact figures vary, we know that people with learning disabilities are over represented in the UK’s Criminal Justice System. There can be a variety of reasons for this. For example, being open to suggestion, such as the gentleman who was found guilty of aiding and abetting a burglary after being used as a lookout for a crime he didn’t know was happening; becoming set in a pattern of behaviour such as stealing cars with ‘revolving door’ consequences; or becoming entrenched in a cycle of crime because it is easier to cope in prison than in the community.
Whilst each individual mentioned above took their own journey into the criminal justice system, there are similarities in their paths both into and out of the system. Their journeys into the system were largely characterised by social isolation, difficulty with bills and slightly chaotic lifestyles.
KeyRing only came into contact with the people described once they had left the system but their change in behaviour was so marked, one might surmise that had the right support been given before their crimes had been committed, their paths might have taken a different course.
For each of the individuals, the support offered by KeyRing was two-fold. Firstly the main aspects of running a home were addressed– especially things that had previously caused difficulty and distress, such as budgeting, keeping appointments and reading letters. However, it is the second element of KeyRing’s support; developing connections with the community, which arguably made the transformational difference to their lives.
The person who was in and out of prison for stealing cars saw a need for a football referee in the local community, stopped smoking, got fit, learnt the laws of the game and passed a refereeing qualification, no longer a local nuisance, he became the person whose presence allowed youth football matches to happen. He thus became part of a solution offering the next generation the chance to avoid the mistakes he had made.
The gentleman who fell into the wrong crowd and ended up in trouble for aiding and abetting was encouraged to build relationships with others we support and to develop healthier connections with those around him. He has since run several half marathons and raised a considerable sum for charity.
The gentleman whose entrenched cycle of crime led to him doing 22 years in prison was supported to volunteer in his community and with the award winning Working for Justice campaigning group. He is now a family man with a partner and after being reunited with his son when his criminal behaviour stopped, an active grandfather.
It might be easy to assume that KeyRing offers intense and costly support to each of these people, but that is not the case. Rather, it is about offering the right support at the right time on a flexible basis and unlocking the natural capacity in every community.
There has to be some intentionality to this; in order to avail themselves of natural support and build relationships, people have to be present in the community! KeyRing’s network style of support is a contributing factor to the ease with which these outcomes are achieved. A group of people with support needs live in their own properties scattered around a small geographic area and, supported by a volunteer and support worker, they agree to look out for each other and share their skills. They get together regularly and map their community, identifying the places where people gather such as friendly cafes, community groups and facilities. They then offer each other mutual support to attend places of interest so that the natural flow of conversation isn’t stifled by the presence of a professional. As people develop confidence and standing in the community they begin to see and meet the needs of that community, developing a sense of belonging and becoming much less likely to commit crime.
For some people, KeyRing has been an enduring part of their journey out of trouble, for others, it has played a time limited role and after a few years they have moved on. Whatever the duration of our support, we have seen time and again that flexible, empowering, community-focused support delivers outcomes which change lives and ultimately saves money.
The Working for Justice Group wins a prize at the Learning Disability awards in 2014
KeyRing provides supported living networks and other projects throughout England and Wales, helping vulnerable people to live fulfilling and independent lives. Their focus on volunteering and community connection benefits those they support and increases the effectiveness and efficiency of paid staff, bringing cost benefits and reducing risk.
Tracy is Communication and Engagement Director at KeyRing. She has worked with people with learning disabilities for over 20 years and for KeyRing for 14 years. She oversees KeyRing’s Criminal Justice work, including the Working for Justice Group which is run in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust and funded by Comic Relief.