Autism and the criminal justice system research to be presented at international conference

Autism and the criminal justice system research to be presented at international conference

Work carried out at the University of Cumbria investigating how people on the autism spectrum are dealt with by the criminal justice system is to be showcased at an international conference.

The research will be presented to delegates at the Offenders with a Intellectual and/or Development Disability event organised by the National Autistic Society, and will be held in Birmingham.

The Cumbrian research project has initially consulted 30 criminal justice professionals across Cumbria from the police, probation service, community rehabilitation company (Sodexo) and the NHS Liaison and Diversion Service (who work alongside police) to identify their knowledge, understanding and awareness of autism. Specific findings from this aspect of the project, which are due to be published within the university’s Journal of Applied Psychology and Social Science in May, revealed that while a number of participants brought useful personal or professional experiences of autism into their professional lives several struggled to accurately identify or describe how they might work effectively with or support an individual identified as being on the autism spectrum.    

The research project is currently completing interviews with participants with a diagnosis of autism to record their experiences of engaging with regional criminal justice service providers.

“We’re keen to gain the voices of people on the autism spectrum to try to begin to look at positive areas to develop whether offenders, victims or witnesses,” says Iain Dickie, a research assistant who is mid-way through a project which aims to prevent people with autism in Cumbria from becoming involved in criminal behaviour, either as victim or perpetrator.

Funded by the CRH Charitable Trust, the University of Cumbria’s Department of Nursing, Health and Professional Practice is supporting a two-year project working with Penrith-Triple A (All About Autism.) Founded by University of Cumbria alumnus Helen Storey, Triple A is working with Iain to investigate the issues identified among people on the autism spectrum within the criminal justice system.

Interim work from the project will be shared at the Birmingham conference which is also being attended by Austin Dorrity, senior lecturer in learning disabilities and autism. It will aim to highlight how perceptual and communication differences between people on the autism spectrum and criminal justice professionals could lead to unhelpful barriers to communication.

“I have really enjoyed contributing to the Working with individuals on the autism spectrum course at the University of Cumbria,” Iain Dickie said. “It offers the opportunity for students to study at a range of academic levels from a wealth of different perspectives including individuals with a diagnosis of autism, parents and family members as well as professional from differing backgrounds who all help to enrich and invigorate the course.”

The University of Cumbria has close ties with the National Autistic Society and runs courses in working with individuals on the autism spectrum in Cumbria, Lancashire and London.