Three years since the murder of Steven Hoskins: How do we treat, support and manage offenders and suspected offenders with learning disabilities in our communities?
In the first week of July, 2006 Steven Hoskins was viciously taunted, beaten, humiliated, drugged and then murdered; forced over the edge of a railway viaduct, his hands and face kicked from the safety rail. Steven was a 39 year old man with learning disabilities, known to local health and social services and described as having ‘substantial’ support needs. He was known at times to drink quite heavily and there had been some contact with the police; on the day before his death he had been detained at a local store for shop-lifting. He was killed in the most sadistic fashion by people who had been living in his bed-sit and using his money; people he had described as his friends.
In many ways this description of Steven Hoskins' life (though thankfully not his horrific death) mirrors the lives of people I have been visiting and interviewing (adults with intellectual disabilities who live ‘independently’ in the community and are suspected or convicted of committing criminal or anti-social acts) over the last 18 months of my PhD research. This aspect of my work explores accounts of daily interactions drawn from interviews with adults with ID, members of their families, their paid support workers, and others involved in overseeing or managing their statutory service provisions. Complex concerns emerge and shape care practices reflecting conflicting individual, institutional, and professional perspectives, and also emotional responses. I would like to focus on some tensions, relating particularly to contradictory legal and social constructions of a person with ID and offending behaviour, as: ‘a person with rights, who should be included in society and fully supported to be independent and to make autonomous choices’ (see Valuing People Now, 2009; Mental Capacity Act, 2005); ‘someone who may pose a risk to society’ (Criminal Justice & Immigration Act, 2008; Mental Health Act, 2007); and ‘someone who may be vulnerable to abuse’ (Protection of Vulnerable Adults, 2009; and No Secrets, 2000). These tensions highlight limitations in the current legislative and policy array, both in relation to underlying conceptualisations of autonomy and support, and also as a source of guidance by which to evaluate, promote, or protect good relationships in this context.