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Are autistic people disadvantaged by the criminal justice system? A case comparison


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Slavny-Cross Allison and Baron-Cohen said:


The UK government identified ‘improving support within the criminal justice systems’ as a priority for autistic people. There is a lack of quantitative research to enable policymakers to make evidence-based decisions on how to improve access to justice for autistic people. This study used a case-comparison design to compare the experiences of 145 autistic and 116 non-autistic adults who had been arrested at some point in their life. Autistic participants were nearly five times more likely to state that they were not given an appropriate adult even though they believed they needed one and felt less able to communicate with the police. Autistic participants felt less able to cope with stress, twice as likely to have experienced meltdowns and five times more likely to have experienced shutdowns because of their criminal justice involvement. We conclude that there are inequalities that autistic people face when navigating the criminal justice system and the degree to which they can participate effectively in the justice process. This has an impact on their mental health. Policy recommendations are discussed based on this evidence.

Slavny-Cross Allison and Baron-Cohen said:

Lay Abstract​

Most autistic people will never experience being arrested or charged with a crime, however for those who do tend to be less satisfied with the way they were treated. The purpose of this study was to find out if autistic people are being disadvantaged by the criminal justice system if they are arrested. Previous research has shown that autistic people may have difficulties communicating with the police. This study builds on this knowledge by uncovering why autistic people may not feel able to communicate with the police and whether the police made any adjustments to help them. This study also measures the impact of being involved with the criminal justice system on autistic people’s mental health, such as stress, meltdowns and shutdowns. The results show that autistic people were not always given the support they felt they needed. For example, not all autistic people had an appropriate adult with them at the police station who could help to make sure they understood what was happening around them. Autistic people were also more likely to feel less able to cope with the stress and more likely to suffer meltdowns and shutdowns because of their involvement with the criminal justice system. We hope this study will help police officers and lawyers to better support autistic people if they become involved with the criminal justice system.

Full article available at
Interesting study here, @VictorR. This also makes me wonder about intersectionality and autistic people who are already in a group that are disadvantaged by the criminal justice system.
This is important because the most mundane situations do shut down those on the spectrum unless you have been able to push thru this aspect in your lifetime. I have worked thru this due to a verbally abusive step-father who at times could be violent. I had to stand up and confront the bully. It feels like have spent my lifetimes confronting bullies and therefore it's normal to me, but not for others.
Thanks for posting this, interesting.

I happened upon part of a radio interview last year, a mother in England who's Autistic son was on trial for what sounded like some trumped up terrorism charge. She said when he asked the prosecution to repeat a question and needed time to process and answer, the prosecution asked, exact quote, "Are you dumb?" Then when he apologised and tried to explain that he was autistic, the judge got angry, shouted at him and told the jury to disregard that.

So called legal professionals asking a young Autistic guy "Are you dumb?" and shouting at him....ugly business. There's probably a whole lot worse that going on as well, unfortunately.
I agree with Aspychata here, I think it has a lot to do with people's individual characters too. For the most part I always got along very well with police, if anything they let me get away with far more than they would most people.

I also found the same when in court, judges liked me. No, I'm no angel. I grew up in an environment where I had to defend myself on a daily basis from an early age and I think this helped me develop necessary skills.
When I notice how our local police department now undergoes some degree of training in dealing with autistic citizens under various circumstances, it's easy to conclude that there are significant concerns to be aware of.

Yes, absolutely we can be unfairly and unintentionally compromised by the criminal justice system.
Anyone who can get steamrolled will get steamrolled by the criminal justice system. I think we've seen that over and over again, and we're no exception.

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