Aims: To investigate if the Criminal Justice System (CJS) takes a defendant’s autism into account and if so, how. In addition, to establish if autistic people experience justice in the CJS, given their disability – does the CJS make reasonable adjustments? Finally, to test if autistic people are more likely to end up in the CJS because of their disability – are they more vulnerable, and if so, how?
Background: Autistic people may be socially naive, because of their disability, and may misunderstand communication, again because of their disability. This may increase their risk of being exploited by others who have criminal intent whilst they do not, or so that they commit a crime without intending to. Their obsessionality may also confer a kind of tunnel vision so that they pursue an interest and cross a legal boundary, but again had no criminal intent. Finally, under conditions of feeling stressed and threatened they may react not by seeking help but by trying to solve the problem alone, in a highly unconventional way, without getting the benefit of another point of view from a friend or a lawyer or even a family member – and sometimes in doing so commit a crime. This project investigates whether the CJS takes autism into account and if so, how.
Methods: We use surveys with lawyers and with autistic defendants themselves.
Results: These will be posted on the ARC website when they are available.
Importance: A better understanding of the pathways that might lead an autistic person into the CJS will help society know where to intervene to reduce such risks in the future. Further, a better understanding of the processes within the CJS will help ensure the CJS is autism-friendly, inclusive and democratic, and minimise the risk of inadvertent discrimination towards autistic defendants.
Relevance: This project is relevant to lawyers, judges, probation officers, the police, autistic people and their families, and ultimately to policy makers to improve how society supports autistic people.
Funding: The Autism Research Trust, NIHR-ARC East of England.