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With National Autism Week running until 2nd April, now is a good time for us to reflect on the progress the criminal justice system is making in understanding the requirements of those on the spectrum. 

The timely Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announcement on Friday 27th March, suggests the government is taking steps to improve the rehabilitation support available to those prisoners with autism. 

The government is actively encouraging Youth Offender Institutes and Prisons to apply for the National Autistic Society’s (NAS) autism accreditation. It’s intended that the accreditation will standardise locally-agreed practices that the prison adheres to. The standards are not just for prison staff, but primary care, mental health providers and education support workers too. 

The recommendations follow the best practice already being undertaken at HMYOI Feltham, which the staff have reportedly enthusiastically embraced.
Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, commented in a MoJ press release:

“Taking account of the specific needs of prisoners with autism is an important part of the accreditation and, in many cases, a few simple adjustments can make a difference.”

Naturally, the National Autism Society is delighted by the positive step. They’re quite right to be proud of the achievement – autism effects people differently and now there’s a framework that helps recognise this. It brings to the forefront that autism can pose particular difficulties that often hinder rehabilitation efforts. 

HMYOI Feltham is currently working towards achieving its NAS accreditation later this year, and will be quickly followed by Parc and Wakefield. 

What will be interesting though in the wake of the government’s extension of probation services for all prisoners upon release, is how continuous the awareness and support will be and what will be expected of the CRCs and National Probation Service

Think Autism, the government’s adult autism strategy group, is currently looking at issues affecting people with autism in the criminal justice system. However, the government is still considering whether autism awareness training can be made more available to probation staff. 

Progress is being made on the policing front. The College of Policing has appointed a full-time mental health co-ordinator, whose role it is to develop new professional guidance on a variety of issues, including autism. The new guidance is expected to reach consultation shortly. 

Action is also being taken at local force level too. Many have provided their officers with tailored training programmes to learn how to identify those with autism spectrum disorders. For example, Hampshire Police work closely with the Hampshire Autistic Society. 

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