PAUSING MID-SENTENCE: YOUNG OFFENDER PERSPECTIVES ON THEIR LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION NEEDS
The study investigated participants’ perceptions of their own language and communication; their interactions with peers in prison; and their experiences with professionals in the welfare and justice systems. The prevalence of language disorder in the sample was also established. International research evidence has firmly established a high prevalence of language disorder in young offender populations. Less is known about young offenders’ perspectives on their own language abilities. The study recruited an opportunity sample of ten young men in custody at Polmont HMYOI who had recent experience of removal from association, or ‘segregation’. The research investigated participants’ language and communication abilities in order to inform future support and intervention. It focused on their communication with professionals and peers in justice, education and welfare settings. Results of standardised language assessment indicated the presence of language disorder in 44% (n=4) of the sample (n=9). Informal justice vocabulary assessment results showed an unexpectedly high mean score of 85%. Thematic analysis of interview data led to formulation of three main themes. These were categorised as: Valuing Communication, Literacy and Learning; Exerting Control; and Seeking Support. The themes are discussed with reference to Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model. Participants offered reflective and rich views on their lived experience. They described their perspectives on: the antecedents of communication breakdown in prison; features of successful interaction with peers and authority figures; and a need for support in all justice environments, particularly in the court setting. Thus, this study makes a contribution to knowledge through adding to an emerging qualitative evidence base within Speech and Language Therapy.