A project which aims to prevent people with autism in Cumbria from becoming involved in criminal behaviour, either as victim or perpetrator, is underway.
The Triple A Project (www.tripleaproject.org.uk) was founded by Helen Storey, a graduate of the University of Cumbria, who has previously worked with offenders and ex-offenders. Her first-hand experience in the field of autism, together with her experience at university, has helped the Penrith-based project take off.
“This is an exciting partnership that will seek to produce a high standard of locally sourced research,” Helen said. ”By working together, we can go a long way to prevent autistic individuals becoming engaged with criminal justice system – and where this does happen, for a system that can embrace and accommodate difference.”
Funded by the CRH Charitable Trust, the University of Cumbria’s Department of Nursing, Health and Professional Practice is committed to supporting the two-year project. This involves working with Triple A to investigate the issues identified among people on the autism spectrum within the criminal justice system.
“We’re really proud to be involved in this kind of project which can make a difference to peoples’ lives,” Austin Dorrity, senior lecturer in learning disability and autism said. ”We work closely with the National Autistic Society so that students attending our courses in Cumbria, Lancashire and London can have access to resources and expertise that can help create these kinds of ground-breaking projects. The funding for this post allows us to explore in detail key areas which are only opened through an ongoing dialogue between service deliverers, service users, and the research expertise and experience of the university.”
The research project is supervised by Dr Tom Grimwood, academic lead of Health and Social Care Evaluations (HASCE) who will monitor and evaluate the work of the Triple A Project.
“I am really proud to be working with the Triple A Project to develop an innovative research project that will seek to identify how a person on the autism spectrum might come into contact with a regional Criminal Justice Service Provider,” Iain Dickie, research assistant and former University of Cumbria student, said. “Something that both the university and the Triple A Project are very passionate about is making sure that the research captures the circumstances in which someone from the ASC community might come into contact with a Criminal Justice Service Provider like the Police or National Probation service.”
At the moment a range of crime, health and social care providers who work with individuals on the autism spectrum are being identified. Later this year interviews will be conducted before the opinion of members of the autism community are canvassed to identify their experiences of the criminal justice system. A particular area of interest to the project is identifying where a person on the autism spectrum might be vulnerable to victimisation or engaging in any behaviour that could lead to a criminal conviction.
Helen points out that the main successful development so far has been The Navigator Programme - devised to support autistic individuals who have either found themselves in the criminal justice system or are at risk of being so. Navigators are a hybrid of mentor, advocate and befriender who enable and equip autistic individuals to negotiate barriers and difficulties - to steer away from potentially harmful and negative behaviour – either as victim or perpetrator.
The Triple A Project has produced a film with the University of Cumbria’s media department to be used by Cumbria Police to raise awareness of autism.