Autism in police custody
Autistic individuals can have negative experiences in police custody which can lead to significant personal and legal outcomes. This is due to difficulties:
- understanding arrest and detention
- coping with the demands of detention
- participating in the custody process
Although being supported by others may help to minimise the impact of detention, the research highlighted the need for changes to practice, the custody environment and policy to help improve the support of autistic individuals in police custody.
NAPP have been working to implement changes in these areas and identify further priority areas for change to ensure that best practices for supporting autistic individuals are standard across the UK. Their work has included the co-production of an autism training package for custody staff, assisting with the design of a new custody suite in Nottinghamshire and a policy brief on autism and policing.
Autism training is not a mandatory requirement for police forces in the UK. This means that autism training varies in quality and provision between police forces. Autistic individuals have highlighted the need for improved autism training for custody staff to ensure that they are aware of the difficulties which may be experienced by autistic individuals during the custody process. They have also emphasised the importance of knowing how to support autistic individuals to help them participate in the custody process. Police forces have also reported the need for better training which is tailored to the specific job roles of their staff.
NAPP have created an autism training package for custody staff which is designed to help them support autistic individuals during the custody process. The training package includes a toolkit of visual communication aids and training resources for custody staff, and a training video showing the experiences of autistic individuals going through the custody process.
Improving the custody environment
Autistic individuals have reported difficulties associated with the demands created by the custody environment. They have emphasised how the sensory demands of the custody environment (ie light, noise, space and colour) can be difficult to process for some autistic individuals and how this can lead to increased anxiety and distress. Adjustments to the custody environment can help to minimise these demands and help to ensure autistic individuals are able to participate in the custody process effectively.
NAPP have been working with Nottinghamshire police force and other police forces across the UK to help them make their custody suites more autism friendly. They have identified potential sources of sensory stress and offered advice on how the custody environment could be adjusted to make it less demanding. These suggestions have been incorporated into the design of the new custody suite in Nottingham including:
- adaptations to the teletronic system
- use of textures and visuals to provide controlled sensory input
- dimmable lighting in the custody areas
One of the wider aims of the NAPP is to influence policy changes to help standardise best practice for supporting autistic individuals across the UK. Both national and local policy can prevent certain changes to practice and the custody environment from being implemented. Police forces also may have different priorities depending on the specific demands of the region they serve. This means that individual police forces can differ in the provision and level of training they offer their officers to support autistic individuals in police custody. To help coordinate these practices and ensure all police forces adopt effective approaches to improving the support of autistic individuals, policy changes are needed.
NAPP are hoping to work with policing authorities and policymakers to discuss the need for change and promote the need for a national agenda for autism and policing. They have been helping to raise awareness of the issues surrounding autism in relation to policing through a policy brief co-produced by members of the group.