Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders
Background: Studies of the prison population suggest that the numbers of prisoners with language and communication disorders is higher than that of the overall population. However, the prison population is heterogeneous and it is important to focus on specific areas of the population. This study focuses on juvenile offenders.
Aims: The study aimed to screen language and communication skills in half the population of an establishment for juvenile offenders aged 15-17 years.
Methods & Procedures: A total of 58 participants were selected at random and screened on the oral subtests of the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language, 3rd Edn (TOAL-3), the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS-II) and the Test for Reception of Grammar: Version 2 (TROG-2). Literacy and numeracy information was also obtained.
Outcomes & Results: The mean age of the group was 17 years; 19 were looked-after children; and 90% had ceased to attend school before age 16. On the TOAL-3 subtests, 66-90% of juvenile offenders in the sample had below average language skills, with 46-67% of these being in the poor or very poor group. None of the participants reached their age equivalence on the BPVS, but most of them reached the 12-year and above threshold on the TROG. A total of 62% of the sample had not achieved Level 1 in literacy. The findings suggest that these young people may not have the necessary skills to cope with verbally mediated interventions aimed at reducing re-offending.
Conclusions: The results suggest that speech and language therapy assessment should be available to juvenile offenders with speech and language therapy intervention available to those found to have language and communication difficulties. There are also implications for speech and language therapy provision to young people who are not engaged within the education system. The TOAL-3 appears to be a useful screening instrument for this population, but a number of issues around the suitability of assessments for this population are discussed.