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Why

Research shows that autistic people are more likely to come into contact with law enforcement or other justice professionals, compared to non-autistic people. Autistic individuals and their families are also more likely to experience negative, and potentially traumatising encounters with the criminal justice system.

Despite the growing prevalence and awareness of autism, criminal justice systems in many countries do not adequately meet the needs of autistic people and their families.

How can interactions between autistic individuals and the criminal justice system be improved?

What policy and practice changes should be made to better support autistic people who come into contact with the criminal justice system?

The research

An international group of autism and justice system experts – including Aspect’s Research and Assessments National Manager, Vicki Gibbs – is working on a policy brief aimed at improving interactions between autistic people and the criminal justice system. Vicki’s involvement recognises the high calibre of research conducted by the ARCAP team that led to the development of Australia’s first autism training module for police.

The group meets regularly and will be conducting an international survey of autistic people and their families as well as criminal justice professionals in the second half of 2020. The survey will investigate:

  • frequency and nature of interactions between autistic people and the criminal justice system
  • knowledge and confidence of criminal justice system professionals when working with autistic people
  • accommodations that can support autistic people at various stages of the criminal justice system.

Making a difference

Spanning ten countries across four continents, this is the largest research study to explore autistic people’s interactions with the criminal justice system. Results of this survey combined with findings from a comprehensive review of the scientific literature will form the basis of a policy brief aimed at supporting autistic people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The policy brief is due to be completed by mid-2021. It may be used by agencies involved in the criminal justice system such as police, corrections and courts as a framework for making adaptations for autistic people. The brief will also identify gaps in the research and therefore guide further investigations in this area.

Research team

The international team comprises many researchers from ten countries including:

Dr Lindsay Shea, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University (Co-lead researcher)

Cpl. John Burke, Philadelphia Police Department Training and Education Services Bureau (Co-lead researcher)

Vicki Gibbs, ARCAP

Dr Abigail Love, ARCAP

Started

2020

Ends

2021

Funding

International Society for Autism Research (INSAR)

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