Neurodivergence Awareness

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Prison population

In prison, estimates vary on the prevalence of conditions like autistic spectrum disorders but in 2021 the Scottish Government published the following:

"Conditions like ASDs (autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive development disorder) are over-represented among people in custody but underdiagnosed. This is despite there being standard measures to trace ASDs and efforts to develop screening tools for ASDs in prisons (Robinson et al., 2012).

The prevalence rate of ASDs in Scottish prisons is not known. Results from studies in Scottish prisons vary from no evidence that ASDs are common (Robinson et al., 2012), to a prevalence rate of 9% (Young et al., 2018a). Other studies explore the link between ASDs and offending behaviour – although some have speculated a potential correlation between them, more recent studies did not find any evidence that people with ASDs are more positive to offending behaviour, while others even found a negative correlation (Allely, 2015).

People with ASD are likely to suffer from another hidden disability, such as ADHD. Young et al. (2018) found that 22% of men in one Scottish prison had both ASD and ADHD, while 25% of them had at least ADHD. This estimate was consistent with results from an earlier study by Young et al. (2009), which used a sample of 198 men living in HMP Aberdeen, and found that 24% of them had childhood ADHD, of which 20% continued having symptoms during adulthood."

Source: Prison Population, Social Care Needs

Treatment in the criminal justice system

A study took place in 2022 into autism and the criminal justice system. The study asked laywers to answer questions on their experience of defending an autistic client:

"75% of autistic clients were not given reasonable adjustments during the process. Only 43% were offered an appropriate adult during police investigations, even though they had an existing diagnosis of autism. 59% of prosecution barristers and 46% of judges said or did something during the trial that made the lawyers concerned that they did not have an adequate understanding of autism. Lawyers were 7.58 times more likely to be concerned about their autistic client's effective participation in court and were 3.83 times more likely to be concerned that their autistic clients would engage in self‐harm, compared with their nonautistic clients."

They concluded:

"There is a failure to identify and address autistic people's disability within the CJS. There is a need for mandatory autism training for police officers and the judiciary, with a focus on identifying autism and understanding the needs of autistic people so that reasonable adjustments are offered in all cases."

Source: Autism and the criminal justice system: An analysis of 93 cases

Experience in the criminal justice system

User Voice, has produced a report sharing the voices of neurodiverse service users in the criminal justice system.

The report gives insight into:

  • Neurodiverse conditions explained by service users
  • The drivers of neurodiverse service users into the criminal justice system
  • Crisis points; entry into the criminal justice system
  • Life in prison
  • Neurodiversity on probation
  • Diagnosis and treatment
  • Recommendations for change

Guide for criminal justice professionals

The National Autistic Society has produced a guide for police officers and professionals that covers:

  • Why an autistic person may become involved in the criminal justice system
  • Recognising and approaching autistic suspects
  • Indicators that someone may be autistic
  • Police contact
  • At the police station
  • Police interviews
  • Interviewing autistic people as victims or witnesses
  • At court
  • Where can I get more information?

Neurodivergence in Criminal Justice Network (NICJN)

The Neurodivergence in Criminal Justice Network (NICJN) is a group of researchers, practitioners and community members interested in the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals drawn into the criminal justice system. They are based in England and Wales, however, the resources are as applicable in Scotland.

The NICJN Resource Collection aims to provide an accessible, 'one-stop shop' for identifying a variety of literature, reports, accounts, toolkits and other resources related to neurodivergence and criminal justice. The goal is for the collection to enable anyone to easily locate useful information and insight on this subject.

There are six main sections:

  1. Neurodivergence and the CJS
  2. Autism and the CJS
  3. ADHD and the CJS
  4. Dyslexia and the the CJS
  5. FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) and the CJS
  6. ABI/TBI (Acquired/Traumatic Brain Injury) and the CJS

A table with examples of appropriate language use
A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.
Last updated:
March 14, 2024


The following organisations offer support on this topic.

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