Criminal Justice System: Adults with Autism — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 2:30 pm, 30th January 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the treatment of adults with autism by the criminal justice system.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am pleased to have secured this debate on a crucial topic that affects the lives of many adults with autism and the families who support them. The debate is about adults with autism and what happens when they come into contact with the criminal justice system.

It is understandable that a lot of focus in this place and elsewhere is given to children with autism—that is right given the need for educational and other support for them, their parents and their families—but autism does not cease to be an issue when someone turns 18 and becomes an adult. Many of the services that might be available for children with autism fall away when they become adults. Parents get older and it is often more difficult for them to cope. Adults with autism face a complex world outside of full-time education where the behaviours and traits associated with autism are often poorly understood, misinterpreted or even sometimes mistaken for criminality. I will say some more about that in due course.

First, I acknowledge the work of the all-party parliamentary group on autism, which has been supported by the National Autistic Society and many other campaigners. That work has resulted in recent positive developments in the criminal justice system for adults with autism. I congratulate the APPG on successfully securing the support of the former prisons Minister, Andrew Selous. He wrote to all prisons in England and Wales encouraging them to undertake autism accreditation. Pleasingly, one prison has already been accredited. According to the APPG website, seven more are undergoing that process, but, with well over 100 prisons in England and Wales, there is a long way to go in making further progress.

Recent cases featured in the press, such as that of a young man called Marcus Potter, show that the use of the prison system can exacerbate the condition of those with autism, rather than act in the public interest. The system can cause deep distress and problems. In this case, a young man with an autism diagnosis from the age of three got into trouble for his compulsive filming of the local police. The judge decided to release him from prison, opting for a care plan and probation instead. The judge concluded:

“The worst place for you is where you are”.

There is a lot of work to be done in relation to adults with autism and prisons. There may be Members who want to say something about that in this debate.