Autism and the Criminal Justice System
Although the last two decades have seen an increase in awareness and the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder, policy, and practice to meet the needs of this group across the lifespan have not consistently kept pace. Autistic individuals are interacting with the justice system at high rates with varying experiences, which impacts their ability to participate fully within their communities. To address this issue, the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) has funded an initiative led by Lindsay Shea, DrPH, director of the Policy and Analytics Center and Cpl. John Burke, an instructor at the Philadelphia Police Department Training and Education Services Bureau to write a policy brief on autism and the criminal justice system.
To begin this work, the Global Autism and Criminal Justice Consortium was assembled to utilize the expertise and experience of international and interdisciplinary team of researchers, policymakers, criminal justice system professionals, self-advocates, and family members to catalyze four prongs of activity:
- In October 2020, a two-day summit was held with partners from around the world from the Global Autism and Criminal Justice Collaborative to identify opportunities and gaps within the justice system for individuals on the autism spectrum and to form relevant policy recommendations for the policy brief.
- Summit sessions were guided by the Revised SIM, with moderators facilitating discussions centered on each Intercept.
- The SIM has a rich history in identifying predictable points of contact in the criminal justice system and was revised for autistic audiences.
- We adopted and revised the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) as the organizational framework for all activities.
Within this model, each stage of the criminal justice system is represented as an Intercept.
- Leveraging these Intercepts allows for targeted policy changes and improvements to established practices at distinct locations.
- By creating a cyclical model, the criminal justice system is better represented as a cohesive and interconnected process.
- This revised version also acknowledges the perspectives of victims, especially important given the high rates of victimization against autistic individuals, and highlights pathways to exit the criminal justice system.
- Overall, this revised SIM offers a roadmap for research to reduce and prevent interactions with the justice system from occurring by breaking through siloed approaches.
- The scope of peer-reviewed research on autism and criminal justice system interactions has increased over the past decade, yet the research has remained scattered and unorganized limiting its impact for policy and practice.
- The Revised SIM propelled a Preferred Reported Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta Analyses (PRISMA) review to (1) organize ASD and CJS research within the SIM framework, (2) identify themes in research findings at each Intercept, and (3) advance policy and practice and directions for future research based on these themes.
- This systematic review served as secondary evidence to further anchor the sessions at the Global Criminal Justice Summit to workshop priorities for policy.
- A scoping review of legal cases involving autism is also underway to identify how autism interacts with the courtroom.
- An interdisciplinary approach will link the findings of both systematic reviews to maximize policy considerations.
- As evidenced by our systematic review, large samples of primary data on autism and the criminal justice system is lacking. Study populations often tend to be limited to single nations as well.
- The Global Criminal Justice Survey is a crucial step towards identifying existing policy gaps and opportunities across the entire world.
- Survey questions were tailored to the experiences of autistic individuals, parents and caregivers, and criminal justice profressionals to capture information across stakeholder groups to maximize the impact of the findings.
- Eager to learn more or get involved with the Global Autism and Criminal Justice Consortium? Please contact email us at PAC@Drexel.edu for any inquiries. We look forward to hearing from you!