Having dyslexia or a learning difficulty doesn’t just mean finding school and work a bit harder than other people. One of the very serious results of these problems is that people who have dyslexia and other learning difficulties are seriously overrepresented in the justice system.
We know that only a tiny minority of men in jail in Victoria have completed high school, fewer than 1 per cent. In comparison, more than half of all Victorian men have completed high school. That’s a big difference. We also know that dyslexia and other learning disabilities are the most commonly seen sort of disability in the justice system.
You see, as well as being more likely to be poorly educated and jobless before they go to jail, once someone with dyslexia or another learning disability gets involved with the justice system they’re at a major disadvantage.
If you have dyslexia and you get arrested, there are lots of areas where you’re likely to struggle:
- You might not understand what is said to you by police or lawyers as the words they use could be too complex for you.
- You might not be able to read the information that you’re presented with.
- If you’re trying to explain what’s happened, your difficulties with recall, sequencing, and clear and specific language will make that hard.
A person who ends up in jail is a person who has been to primary school and at least some high school. They’ve probably been to the doctor at some point in their lives, they might have been getting Centrelink benefits before they got in trouble. They are a person who’s had multiple points of contact with different systems throughout their life, but not enough has happened to identify and address their learning difficulties.
Addressing the sort of disadvantage that leads to some people ending up in prison means better education, early identification, diagnosis, intervention and support need to be available at many different points throughout people’s lives. More than $12 billion was spent on the Australian criminal justice system in 2011-12 – that’s a lot of special education!