Saturday, April 08, 2006


I have written before about the limitations of the criminal justice system when dealing with certain types of people, especially those with learning difficulties or mental health issues. The law and the courts are geared to punish and deter, or, through the medium of community orders, to attempt rehabilitation and reform. None of this is of any use in dealing with people who are, frankly, not really fit to be allowed to live alone but not eligible to be cared for in the health system.

Daniel is a slight young man in his early twenties. He lives in social housing, and receives benefit, as he is likely to do for the rest of his life. His IQ hovers in the 70s. Generally he gets by, and does little or no harm, but he has a weakness for making nuisance phone calls; this is something that the courts take seriously, and for which prison is often imposed. But all four of the calls with which Daniel has been charged were to the police. He didn't have the nous to cover his tracks, and was arrested.

What on earth are we to do with him? In law he is fit to plead, knows the consequences of his actions, and should be treated like any other offender. None of us could even contemplate prison for him; quite apart from the naive and pathetic nature of the offences he would certainly suffer bullying in any kind of custody. So we put the case back for reports, to see if some kind of supervision could be sorted out, but we were not hopeful as Probation usually won't touch a first offender. Unpaid work is probably out on health and safety grounds. The report came back before a different bench, so I don't know what happened to him, but I do know that the majesty of the law is a blunt instrument when we sometimes need a scalpel.

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