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UK: Speech therapy for young offenders may provide a way out of the system

8th February 2012

The Guardian reports that a Youth Offending Team (YOT) in Bolton was recently awarded £75,000 by the Department of Health to focus on assessing and treating speech and communication problems of first-time offenders. The grant was largely based on the work of speech and language therapist Ian Warriner, who works with the Bolton YOT to treat speech and language defects in youth offenders. Warriner explains that although the corrections system assumes that children have a certain level of language ability, youth offenders often have problems with communication that have gone unidentified. He estimates that around 60% of his patients would not have been in the system if they had received earlier language therapy. Furthermore, some do not understand terms fundamental to their relationship with the courts, such as “intervention” or “reparations.” This hinders their ability to meet the courts’ expectations and get out of the system. However, with individualised speech and communication therapy, many have a better chance of not reoffending. 

In the Republic of Ireland, the Children’s Rights Alliance has found that, “More than 23,000 children were on HSE waiting lists for speech and language therapy in 2010, with almost 4,000 of those waiting between 12 months and two years.” The IPRT takes the position that the causes of criminal behaviour are complex and multi-faceted, stemming often from deeper social and economic issues. With a possible link between early language assessment and criminal activity, the Irish criminal justice system may have an opportunity to reduce crime and create a social benefit by investing in speech and language therapy for its young offenders.

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