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Neurodiversity and the revolving door of crisis and crime
Revolving Doors on how neurodivergence affects people who are in repeat contact with the justice system for low-level offences, and how neurodivergence is a form of multiple disadvantage.

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Neurodiversity Forum

Yesterday (15 September 2022) Revolving Doors published a policy briefing exploring the links between neurodiversity and the revolving door of crisis and crime. The paper outlines Revolving Doors’ position on how neurodivergence affects people who are in repeat contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offences, and how neurodivergence is a form of multiple disadvantage. It also sets out  recommendations for policymakers.

The paper was developed with Revolving Doors’ Neurodiversity Forum, which consists of 6 people who identify as neurodivergent and have recent, repeated contact with the criminal justice system driven by multiple disadvantage. It has also been informed by wider evidence sourced from the Ministry of Justice, the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection’s review of evidence into neurodiversity in the criminal justice system, academics, and other sources.

Evidence

There is a consensus that approximately one third of people in prison self-identify as having a learning difficulty or disability. Other studies show that the prevalence of dyslexia in the prison estate could be over 50%. Speech and language therapists estimate that 80% of the prison population have some kind of speech, language or communication need.
Concerningly, as well as neurodiversity being prevalent amongst people in contact with the criminal justice system, evidence indicates that at all points of the criminal justice system, people are disadvantaged because of their neurodivergence. Examples of disadvantages include:

  • The police misrecognising neurodiverse conditions, and behaviours relating to these conditions, leading to the unnecessary escalation of force.
  • Difficulties dealing with the police custody environment – leading to people not being in the right headspace to make informed decisions.
  • Neurodiverse conditions not being considered as part of mitigating circumstances.
  • Lack of understanding of the courts process as a result of neurodivergence, limiting engagement with a case and the ability to make informed decisions.
  • Lack of understanding of license conditions due to neurodivergence, potentially leading to breach.

The paper covers four main themes:

  1. Neurodiversity is misunderstood and misinterpreted – neurodivergent people talked of how often upon first contact with the criminal justice system, through the police, their neurodivergence was interpreted as aggression, indifference, or intoxication.
  2. Neurodiversity intersecting with problematic substance use – neurodivergent people said they sometimes use alcohol and drugs to ‘mask’ their behaviour when amongst neurotypical people.
  3. Navigating the criminal justice system when neurodivergent – neurodivergent people can struggle to navigate the criminal justice system both upon arrest and throughout the courts process. This continues into the prison system, many elements of the prison environment can cause neurodivergent people distress, including busy and noisy wings, cell sharing and changes to the daily routine. Responses to the environment can lead to neurodivergent people exhibiting challenging behaviour that could result in them being disciplined or sanctioned.
  4. Neurodivergent conditions exacerbating trauma – this is an area where more research is needed but it is clear that a trauma-informed approach links in well with a neurodiversity aware approach.

Recommendations

The paper concludes with a series of 10 recommendations:

  • Training must be improved to support frontline workers to respond most effectively to neurodiverse people’s needs.
  • Sentencers must receive neurodiversity awareness training and ensure that sentencing decisions take neurodivergence into account.
  • Timely, thorough pre-sentence reports should be mandatory for all people who are on the cusp of either a custodial or community sentence.
  • Probation practitioners should be supported to ask appropriate and sensitive questions about neurodiverse conditions, and should endeavour to work with people with lived experience to do so.
  • For services to be trauma-informed, they must also be neurodiversity-informed.
  • Treatment and services relating to drugs and alcohol and mental health must be neurodiversity-informed and not work in siloes or consider neurodiversity to be a ‘separate issue’, i.e. services must be co-commissioned and co-delivered.
  • Services should work with people with lived experience to develop strategies for addressing any inequalities.
  • Neurodiversity should be considered as core to multiple disadvantage, rather than as a peripheral issue.
  • More data across the system needs to be collected and analysed on the co-occurrence of neurodiversity and other forms of multiple disadvantage such as problematic substance use and poor mental health.

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