Salekin, Karen L. , Olley, J. Gregory and Hedge, Krystal A.(2010. Offenders With Intellectual Disability: Characteristics, Prevalence, and Issues in Forensic Assessment. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 3(2), 97 — 116
Although the problem of people with disabilities as victims of crime has been well recognized, the known characteristics of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) also make them vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crimes. Most such crimes are minor, but the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia decision called national attention to people with ID and people with dual diagnoses who commit capital crimes. This article reviews the data on offenders with intellectual and dual disabilities and the challenges related to their diagnoses and their roles in the criminal justice system. Offenders with ID are overwhelmingly individuals with mild intellectual disability, and their characteristics largely resemble those of offenders who do not have an ID diagnosis. They do not engage predominantly in any one form of criminal behavior, and their readily identifiable characteristics do not set them apart from offenders without a disability. However, their intellectual limitations make it more difficult for them to understand their Miranda rights; to work effectively with their attorneys; or for those found incompetent to stand trial, to profit from formal programs to restore them to competency. Assessment methods, particularly assessment of malingering of ID, have many limitations when applied in the criminal justice setting.
Below are select highlights extracted from this important article. All are direct quotes unless otherwise indicated. Emphasis (italic and/or bold font) made by blogmaster.
COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF ID AND RELATION TO OFFENDING
- At the most fundamental level, individuals with ID have problems learning, and it has been suggested that the term general learning disorder may be more accurate than either mental retardation or intellectual disability (Baroff, 1999).
- Individuals with ID learn more slowly than do typically developing individuals and have significant problems learning abstract concepts and skills.
- often exhibit cognitive rigidity (see, e.g., Dulaney & Ellis, 1997; Kounin, 1941; Lewin, 1936), have problems with attention (see, e.g., Tomporowski & Tinsley, 1997), demonstrate slow information processing, and have difficulty planning and implementing complex behavior (Ferretti & Cavalier, 1991).
- have been found to learn via imitation of others and to rely more on cues from others than do typically developing individuals (see Balla & Zigler, 1979, for a review).
- With regard to offending, it may be that the outerdirectedness and passive learning style of individuals with ID play a role in their becoming involved in the criminal justice system. For example, they may desire to fit in with a group of individuals and may engage in illegal activities in order to do so.
- In addition to difficulties in formal learning, people with ID commonly have problems in social learning, and impairments in this area can present as personality characteristics. Many studies have shown the tendency of children and adults with ID to have a heightened motivation for social reinforcement (Balla & Zigler, 1979), which can be seen in their tendency to do things to please others.
- These individuals also tend to have low expectations of success and, consequently, often fail to take initiative (Cromwell, 1963; MacMillan, 1969; Ollendick, Balla, & Zigler, 1971).
- When considering the three areas of adaptive functioning—conceptual, social, and practical (AAIDD, 2010)—it is in the area of practical skills that the majority of people with ID are more likely to demonstrate success. Individuals with ID are likely to have relative strengths in the acquisition of basic information and in the completion of tasks that are concrete, familiar, and have practical application in everyday life. Skills that can be learned through repetition are usually easier to acquire than are skills that require abstract understanding.
- An example of a skill set that involves both practical and conceptual skills is that of money use. Suto, Claire, Holland, and Watson (2006) demonstrated that individuals with mild ID can recognize denominations of money and make simple purchases, but they often have problems counting change and budgeting money.
- Given appropriate educational support, individuals with mild ID can learn to read, write, and become gainfully employed (see, e.g., American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000, p. 43), but without such supports, they have poor employment potential and are at increased risk for engaging in criminal activity.
- Once out of school, individuals with IQs at the high end of the mild ID range often blend into the general population; they have friends, marry, have children, and only need assistance during periods of personal or economic stress (APA, 2000; Baroff, 1999).
THE OFFENDER WITH ID Prevalence of ID in the Criminal Justice System
- Recent data indicate that at any time between 4% and 14% of incarcerated individuals in the United States have a diagnosis of ID (Petersilia, 2000), with rates of 0% to 2.8% reported when examining aggregate data from six countries (Fazel, Xenitidis, & Powell, 2008).
- Comparison of available research on the prevalence of ID in the criminal justice system is extremely difficult because research samples are not always representative of “true” ID offenders, and the method by which they obtain the data varies substantially among studies
- it appears that the prevalence of ID in the offender population may be greater than that of the general population, as is the prevalence of low cognitive ability that does not meet threshold for the diagnosis.
Characteristics of Offenders with ID
- are likely to be functioning at the mild level (IQ approximately 55–70).
- it would be expected that these individuals have had some success in independent living, have been employed in labor jobs or other jobs that require only limited cognitive skill, and have been part of a social network.
- individuals with mild ID are less likely to be identified as having a disability because their outward presentation is not recognizably different from the nonimpaired population.
- due to their limitations in cognitive functioning, they are more vulnerable to the negative influences of typical offenders who reside in the community and, if raised in a home where one or more individuals engage in criminal behavior, they are more likely to follow this course rather than carving out a separate existence.
- In reality, individuals with ID at the upper end of the continuum are, in most respects, no different from their counterparts who score slightly higher on an IQ test and/or who demonstrate less impairment in day-to-day functioning. Thus, it is not surprising that research has not borne out the previously held notion that ID offenders are fundamentally different from non-ID offenders.
- There exist a handful of prevalence studies on psychiatric illness and offenders with ID (see, e.g., Jones, 2007; Mannynsala et al., 2009; Riches et al., 2006). Data obtained from an examination of 44 pretrial reports showed that comorbidity was high (prevalence rate of psychiatric illness equal to 89%), with the three most common diagnoses being “any substance abuse/dependence” (68%), alcohol abuse/dependence (45%), and antisocial personality disorder (25%; Mannynsala et al., 2009). Psychotic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depressive disorder were low at 5%, 5%, and 2%, respectively.
THE ROLE OF THE FORENSIC MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
- the role of the mental health professional within the legal realm is to provide the trier of fact with “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” (Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 702; hereafter referred to as Rule 702) that assists the Court in making a determination in that case.
- Issues of importance include the use of abbreviated measures of intelligence (see, e.g., Axelrod, 2002), practice effects on intelligence tests (see, e.g., Basso, Carona, Lowery, & Axelrod, 2002), variability in test scores over time and across setting (see, e.g., Bracken, 1988), validity of measurement of malingering for individuals with ID (see, e.g., Salekin & Doane, 2009), the Flynn effect (see, e.g., Flynn, 1984, 1987, 2009; Hiscock, 2007; Spitz, 1989; Truscott & Frank, 2001), and the use of clinical judgment in the assessment of ID (Schalock & Luckasson, 2005).
- With regard to trial level participation, the two most common forensic evaluations are (a) comprehension of Miranda rights and (b) competence to stand trial; this is true regardless of whether the defendant has an ID.
- Research has consistently found that individuals with ID demonstrate problems understanding their rights and that their suggestibility and tendency to acquiesce make them particularly vulnerable to providing involuntary confessions
- Research presented in this review demonstrates that offenders with ID are, in many respects, similar to those who do not have ID. In comparison with nonoffenders, the general offender population tends to have lower measured intelligence, be less educated, come from lower socioeconomic status, and come from chaotic home environments.
- In fact, we cannot “see” the offender with ID any more obviously than we can “see” the offender without ID. There are no labels on their backs, and there are often no obvious signs that they are impaired enough to warrant attention. That said, underneath what appear to be typical offenders lie true differences in cognitive abilities that can dramatically affect their ability to function within the criminal justice system.
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