Justice or differential treatment? Sentencing of offenders with an intellectual disability

Document Type

Journal Article


Taylor & Francis Group


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




Originally published as: Cockram, J. (2005). Justice or differential treatment? Sentencing of offenders with an intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 30(1), 3-13. Original article available here


Background This paper reports on court outcomes for people with an intellectual disability in comparison with other offenders. It is part of a longitudinal study where it was possible to examine all levels of the criminal justice system, that is, from arrest to court appearance and finally to conviction. The study is based on the summation of nearly 11 years of data, from 1 April 1984 to 31 December 1994. Method Using comprehensive databases, a group of offenders with intellectual disability (n = 843) was “tracked” through the criminal justice system to assess their criminal history and compare it with a cohort of general population offenders (n = 2442). Results The findings show that at the sentencing stage of the court process people with intellectual disability are treated differently from others. There was no difference between the two groups in the proportion who were convicted, that is, where a penalty was imposed by the courts. However, there were considerable disparities between groups for the types of penalties imposed. The nature of the charge does not offer an adequate explanation for this. Conclusion A crucial finding is that it appears that the initial police decision to charge seems to have an enduring, albeit indirect effect at the final stage of disposition.




Link to publisher version (DOI)