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Attitudes towards offenders with intellectual disability

Rachel Worthington (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK)
Sarah Rossetti (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 1 December 2020

Issue publication date: 22 July 2021




Public attitudes are considered influential in the successful reintegration of offenders into society after release, however research into attitudes towards offenders with intellectual disability (ID) has received little attention. The purpose of this study is firstly to see if people hold differing attitudes towards the reintegration of offenders with ID compared to those without ID and secondly, to investigate whether this difference in attitude is because of differing implicit theories of intelligence (TOI). The effects of familiarity with ID were also measured.


In total, 200 participants read crime vignettes depicting crimes committed by offenders with and without ID and completed Dweck’s “TOI” scale.


Participants were found to have greater entity views of intelligence towards ID yet displayed more positive attitudes towards their reintegration than offenders without ID. The influence of demographics was mixed. It would appear attitudes towards offenders with ID are not as negative as initially thought.

Research limitations/implications

Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of desistance and community integration.

Practical implications

While some care must be taken when interpreting the results, this study demonstrates positive results regarding the reintegration of offenders with ID. Attitudes may be changing for the better towards those with disabilities, which is positive in terms of the government and National Health Service (NHS) objectives to reintegrate people with ID successfully back into the community. Although limited in number, it is noted that community forensic mental health teams have been effective in managing offender risk and providing good quality care (Dinani,et al.,2010; Benton and Roy, 2008). They can provide more person-centred and specialist treatments options and have links with other community services, probation and the police (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2014).

Social implications

Community care is thought to lead to more timely treatments with more accessible support teams and services that those with ID would struggle to access in prison (Bradley, 2009). It can also lead to greater well-being and support as individuals are in a less restrictive environment and are closer to their social networks, acting as a protective factor against further reoffending (Benton & Roy, 2008; Bradley, 2009). Furthermore, it has been indicated significant financial savings would be achieved for the criminal justice system by reducing inpatient care and increasing community services and sentences, in addition to reducing the demand on prison spaces (Bradley, 2009; Benton & Roy, 2008).


To date, very few studies have used TOI to examine attitudes towards offenders, with none examining attitudes towards offenders with ID.



Worthington, R. and Rossetti, S. (2021), "Attitudes towards offenders with intellectual disability", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 93-111.



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