AnneMarie MacRae

Project Title: Profiling the speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) of young women and girls who offend.

Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) routinely affect around 10% of the general population. However, a robust international evidence base suggests over 60% of individuals in the justice system experience these difficulties (Anderson et al. 2016).

SLCN significantly impact an individual’s ability to engage with, and participate in, the justice process. Communication disability may present in isolation but is often co-morbid to other neuro-developmental or acquired conditions, such as intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Commonly reported SLCN include difficulties understanding or using appropriate vocabulary, following oral or written directions, sequencing a coherent narrative and code-switching to adopt appropriate non-verbal social communication for the setting (RCSLT 2017).

Although significant over-representation of SLCN in justice settings is now well-documented, the vast majority of data comes from young male offenders. Vulnerable young women and girls in the justice system typically present with a complex combination of risk factors for SLCN, including childhood trauma, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and substance misuse.

Utilizing formal language assessment and semi-structured interviews this study will detail the specific communication disadvantage impacting young women in conflict with the law. This will be the first study where the perspectives, and language skills, of young female offenders in Scotland have been sought and the data will greatly add to the wider international evidence base (Snow, 2019).

The results will amount to recommendations for appropriate judicial pathways and rehabilitative solutions for these vulnerable young women. Furthermore, the study will add to the weight of evidence advocating for routine inclusion of speech and language therapy services in criminal justice settings.

Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship

Field: Linguistics

University: Queen Margaret University

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