Understanding neurodiversity key to improving criminal justice system
Repeat offending and assaults on police and prison staff could be reduced if the criminal justice system better understood neurodiverse conditions like autism and introduced enhanced training to help staff to respond effectively.
That is the message in Merseyside, following a study that shows that most neurodivergent people arrested or about to be convicted, did not fully comprehend the information given to them.
Commissioned by the Police Commissioner for Merseyside, Emily Spurrell, and Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership, the Another Sign report written by The Brain Charity, showed that while criminal justice staff were well versed in equality and diversity, fewer than 30% had any training in conditions such as ADHD.
The report revealed a clear appetite among criminal justice staff to increase their awareness and understanding of such conditions to improve the outcomes for those with neurodiverse needs.
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “Neurodiversity is an undeniably complex area, but what is well evidenced is that individuals with neurodiverse conditions are sadly three times more likely to come into contact with the Criminal Justice System (CJS).
“While this fact is well documented, there continues to be missed opportunities to better support those with neurodiverse needs.
“Addressing these issues requires a multi-agency, multi-faceted response and I welcome the five recommendations set out in this report which have the potential to offer a real step in the right direction.
“This report has the potential to significantly ease the barriers experienced by individuals as they navigate through the CJS and provide better support for those who are vulnerable – progress we all want to see.”
Detective Superintendent Siobhan Gainer, Head of the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership added: “The study shows that a minority of neurodivergent people in the Criminal Justice System confirmed that adjustments were made to accommodate their health needs. Similarly, few users were made aware of their health and social care rights and understood the information they were given at the point of arrest or during their sentence.
The report also shows that many Criminal Justice System professionals identify gaps in their own knowledge and awareness and have had limited access to staff training and development. Along with partner organisations, we will address these issues during the coming months.”
MVRP together with The Brain Charity, were keen to better understand the impact of neurodiversity and identify how enhanced training may help to ensure people with neurodiverse conditions get the support they need and has the potential to prevent offending.
Following their research, The Brain Charity has proposed a trial of noise-controlled areas and either easy-to-read fact sheets or video messages, as well as better training for staff in a standard screening tool to assess service.
Those innovations are two of the five recommendations The Brain Charity has made in light of the report, which also suggests data on neurodiversity in the prison population be collected and studied, clear low-cost adjustments made across the entire criminal justice system to cater for those with neurodiverse conditions, plus better provision in communities, so that those with the likes of ADHD understand the consequences of criminal activity.
Nanette Mellor, CEO of The Brain Charity, said: “We are so glad The Brain Charity was able to lead this important research to ensure neurodiversity is considered within the criminal justice system going forward.
“We believe our Another Sign project’s recommendations will help improve experiences of the criminal justice system for neurodivergent people, by equipping professionals with practical tools and training. Long term, this will prompt positive systemic changes which will ensure neurodiverse prisoners are supported appropriately, encouraging rehabilitation, lowering rates of reoffending, and helping keep our streets safer.”