Recently, I’ve been looking into the use of Shared Lives with people who offend.
About 8% of the general population is considered to have a learning disability or a ‘borderline’ learning disability. There is little consensus on the proportion of people in prison who have a learning disability, but the University of Liverpool looked at the people in three prisons in England in 2006-7 and found that 32% would be considered to have a learning disability or to be borderline, 6.7% being within the definition of learning disabled used by the Valuing People White Paper. So about 5,000 people with learning disabilities are in prison on a given day using that definition or 6,800 likely to be eligible for community services for people with learning disabilities. However, there are few community-based services for learning disabilities in the UK set up specifically to address offending, and few programmes for offenders or addiction services have been adapted for people with learning disabilities or learning difficulties.
We feel that there is real potential for the use of Shared Lives for ex-offenders, particularly for people who have learning disabilities. ‘Darren’, who has a learning disability, moved in with Shared Lives carers ‘June and Rob’ six years ago when he was 18. He had committed serious sexual offences in his teens which had led to his being completed rejected by his family. Because of the level of risk, probation and social services were unable to find a placement in the whole of the region, other than a service which quoted £5,000 per week for secure support. June says,
“We felt this lad wasn’t been given any chance. I had worked as a mental health nurse working with people who had been sexually abused, so I was aware of the issues surrounding sexual offences.” June had support from a “fantastic” probation officer, a policeman who carried out risk assessments and talked bluntly about repercussions to Darren and the Shared Lives scheme worker. Nevertheless, their caring role was exceptionally challenging:
“We were working in shifts to ensure that Darren never went more than 10 minutes unsupervised. That meant he could, for instance, go to the shop and back, provided he took less than 10 minutes. We didn’t take any breaks for two or three years because we couldn’t find appropriate available accommodation. I have an adult son who has a good relationship with Darren and who now acts as a support carer so we can take short breaks.”
Darren has now been living with June and Rob, with no re-offending, for six years. He works in a charity shop and plays football in a local club. He is aiming to live in semi-independent accommodation. He says that without June and Rob he would be in prison. His story shows the potential, and also the challenges, of using Shared Lives with people with a history of offending. Of course, many ex-offenders will have a history of much less serious offending than Darren, but developing this area of work will need new partnerships and understanding between Shared Lives services and offender management services.
Their story also illustrates some of the ways in which we tend to over-value and under-value different forms of care. Rob and June’s support has saved the state getting on for £1.5m over six years, yet their support arrangement could easily have collapsed for lack of short breaks, eventually provided not by expensive and specialist services, but by Rob and June’s son, who is not a social care professional, just someone who has got to know Darren over many years.
If you are interested in developing Shared Lives as support and re-settlement for offenders, please get in touch.
The research information above was found in No one knows: offenders with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. The prevalence and associated needs of offenders with learning difficulties and learning disabilities by Dr Nancy Louck, Prison Reform Trust. 2007, www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/nok