Dáil Éireann - Volume 555 - 17 October, 2002

Written Answers. - Departmental Reports.

  171. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason he has ignored a report completed over two years ago regarding low IQ levels of prisoners; if he has completed his inquiry into the reason the report was not released by his Department's officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18611/02]

[1234]   Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Contrary to the suggestion contained in the question, I have not ignored this research report. The report was brought to my attention shortly after my recent appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when its principal findings were reported in the media.

  The report was commissioned by my Department in December 1998 following a public tender competition. The successful tenderers were a consortium of three suitably qualified persons with experience in the area of learning disability. They undertook the study in 1999 across 14 prisons with a total survey sample of 264 prisoners. The purpose of the study was to assess the extent of learning disability among the prisoner population. For this purpose, learning disability was defined as being characterised by significantly sub-average intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more applicable skill areas i.e. communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure and work. This equates broadly with a World Health Organisation definition of mental handicap.

  The first draft of the study report was submitted in August 1999. The main finding of the report was that 28.8% of the sample survey scored “in a range suggestive of a learning disability”. The draft was the subject of a number of queries by my Department, arising mainly from concerns that the main finding was far out of line with the findings of other prison-based studies and that this divergence was not sufficiently explained in the report. A revised draft of the report was submitted in August 2000 but this did not provide supporting evidence sufficient to dispel continuing reservations about the main finding.

  I should say here that my Department's reservations did not in any way question the validity of any test undertaken as part of the research. What was at issue was whether the main finding was solely a measure of learning disability-mental handicap in the prisoner population or whether it measured both learning disability and the prevalence of other conditions, such as educational deficit arising from truancy, lack of educational experience and conduct disorders, as well as specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The vocabulary, reading, spelling and arithmetic tests which predominated in the study would have been sensitive to those conditions and there is no evidence that the methodology employed was sufficiently robust to exclude them, such as to measure learning disability only. The authors themselves acknowledge that only a qualified psychologist can ascertain the diagnosis of a learning disability following a full psychological assessment. Accordingly, it would be unwise to extrapolate from this report that more than 28% of the Irish prisoner population are mentally handicapped. Anecdotal evidence of those with [1235] professional experience of working with prisoners would strongly dispute any such suggestion.

  As regards release of the report, as a general principle, I am in favour of publication of all research reports. I am therefore arranging for copies of this report to be placed in the Oireachtas Library and I am assured by the Irish Prison Service that the report will be published on the service's website in the near future. It is open to the authors of the report to pursue independent publication in the professional journals which publish such research.