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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Incidence of learning disabilities in an inmate population in B.C. Lysakowski, Barbara


The purpose of this study was to measure the incidence of learning disabilities in a federal inmate population. It further sought to differentiate between learning disabled and normal learning inmates on socioeconomic and criminal variables. Research concerning learning disabilities in the juvenile delinquent population and illiteracy in the adult inmate population suggested that the incidence of learning disabilities in adult criminal populations would be high. The match between the characteristics of learning disabled individuals and criminals further suggested that criminals would manifest their learning disabilities in criminal behaviour which would, thus, differ significantly from the normal learners. Two hundred and forty two inmates in six federal institutions, taking part in the regular penitentiary induction process, were interviewed and asked to write the "Wide Range Achievement Test" (WRAT) and the "School and College Ability Test" (SCAT). Other data used in the study was obtained from the inmates' institutional files. Of the original 242 inmates interviewed only 192 completed both tests and of these only 169 met the criteria for further analysis. Two measures of the incidence of learning disabilities were taken. As IQ scores were not available, straight difference scores between the test-measured achievement grade and the highest grade completed in the regular school system gave the maximum estimate of the incidence. The minimum estimate of the incidence of learning disabilities was determined by imposing a second condition which required that the individual score below two S.D.'s from the mean on one of the percentile scores of the sub-tests. The maximum incidence of learning disabilities was 18.9 percent which was not significantly different from the general population maximum of 16 percent. The minimum incidence was 7.69 percent which was not significantly different from the general population minimum of 6 percent. These results on the incidence of learning disabilities contradict previous research; however, the characteristics of the learning disabled inmate generally are compatible with theoretical suggestions. The learning disabled inmate was found to be younger, come from a larger family with a worse criminal history, have committed more aggressive crimes, have been convicted as an adult at a younger age, have been convicted of more offences and, even though younger, have had the same number of previous federal and provincial commitments and have served the same period of time in federal and provincial institutions as the normal learning inmate.

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