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Posts tagged: research

The Impact of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Criminal Justice System: A Growing Concern

17 January 2017

Clare AllelyOn Wednesday 19th Oct 2016 a 30 year old man took his own life at HMP Manchester (Strangeways), the young man who was discovered hanged in his cell was known to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/nicky-reilly-dead-strangeways-prison-12056877).

This led to inquiries to confirm whether deaths in custody of those known to have an autism spectrum disorder are collated in any way. The key organisations who collect this data, INQUEST, The Howard League for Penal Reform and The Prison Reform Trust were contacted regarding this type of prisoner. Each organisation replied that they do not hold this data. This illustrates the importance of exploring this area in detail.Despite prison interest and some prisons being involved with pilot work within the UK, Feltham remains the only prison in the UK to have Autism Accreditation and is Moitherefore, ‘autism friendly’. Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) Feltham is the first prison or young offender institution in the UK to be awarded Autism Accreditation (http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2016-02-25-first-autism-accredited-prison.aspx). For over two years, Feltham has been working with The National Autistic Society (NAS) in order to improve the way they support offenders with ASD. The aim of Accreditation is to improve autism practice across all areas of prison life: admission, prison staff training, behaviour management and the physical environment, with the long-term aim of tackling issues frequently experienced by prisoners with ASD and ultimately reducing the risk of recidivism in this subgroup.

The urgency of further research and recognition of Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in the criminal justice process is emphasised by studies which have found that the severity of ASD traits is a risk factor for suicidality and common mental health issues in prisoners (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092493381530674X).

In the North West of England there are 16 prisons with a total operational capacity of 12,543. Let’s say that the prevalence figure of autism spectrum disorders is at least the same as that found in the general population (1%) then there are at least 125 prisoners in prisons in the North West of England alone who are on the spectrum.

Given that there are a number of studies suggesting that the prevalence of ASD is higher in the prison population when compared to the general population, it highlights the urgent need for more prisons to gain Autism Accreditation and for further research to gain more of an understanding the specific needs of inmates with ASD and prison staffs knowledge of the disorder.

Recognising the importance of research in this field, lecturers at the University of Salford, Dr Clare Allely and Dr Toni Wood, have combined their expertise in a unique project which will involve questionnaires and semi-structured interviews of a broad section of prison staff as well as inmates with ASD with the aim of increasing our understanding of what areas could be improved on and, crucially, to assist in the development of a toolkit for prison staff in order to try and increase the identification, recognition and understanding of ASD within the prison environment.

Our project addresses a real gap in the research. Research looking at these issues is sparse (http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JIDOB-06-2015-0014). Only one study has explored prison staffs’ knowledge and understanding of ASD (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bild/gap/2009/00000010/00000001/art00005) but they all agree that many individuals with ASD do not receive the appropriate care that they need.

This issue of a lack of awareness and recognition of ASD occurs even earlier in the criminal justice process – police interview and court proceedings (Cooper & Allely, 2016; Cooper, Berryessa, & Allely, 2016). Concern has been raised in the literature regarding how juries and judges handle cases involving defendants with ASD.

The modest amount of research on judicial perceptions or decision making regarding defendants with ASD suggests that judges have limited understanding and familiarity with ASD (Freckelton & List, 2009). This is particularly concerning considering that there is some indication in the literature that jurors may hold misconceptions and stigmatising beliefs about ASD which may have a negative impact on the juror’s decision regarding a defendant with ASD.

Some behaviours exhibited by defendants with ASD can be viewed negatively if not understood in the context of the defendant’s condition. Freckelton (2013) detailed the case of State v Burr, 2007 where the defendant, Burr, appeared in court with a bag draped over his head. When asked a question, he would respond with questions from the Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah (a section of the Hebrew Bible) and the Christian Old Testament. In another case, R v Sultan [2008] EWCA, the Court of Appeal concluded that expert evidence on the defendant’s autism spectrum condition ‘might have gone some way to explain to the jury why the appellant was behaving so oddly at trial, such as reading a book during [the complainant’s] evidence’ (paragraph 34).

As researchers, we aim to increase recognition of this area with the hope that more prisons in the UK will obtain Autism Accreditation and that there is increased awareness of ASD as early as possible in the criminal justice process.

Dr Clare Allely

Lecturer in Psychology, University of Salford

Affiliate member of the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre. University of Gothenburg.

Dr Toni Wood

Lecturer in Criminology, University of Salford

References

Al-Attar, Z. (2016). Autism & Terrorism Links – Fact or Fiction? 15th International Conference on the Care and Treatment of Offenders with an Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability. National Autistic Society. 19-20th April 2016.

Cooper, P., & Allely, C. S. (2016). The Curious Incident of the Man in The Bank: Procedural Fairness and a Defendant with Asperger’s Syndrome. Criminal Law and Justice Weekly, 180 (35), pp. 632-634. http://bit.ly/2cQMnQJ

Cooper, P., Berryessa, C. M., & Allely, C. S. (2016). Understanding what the Defendant with Asperger’s Syndrome Understood: Effective use of expert evidence to inform jurors and judges. Criminal Law and Justice Weekly, 180 (44), pp. 792-794. http://www.criminallawandjustice.co.uk/

See here for related article by the same authors: http://theconversation.com/britains-criminal-justice-system-doesnt-know-what-to-do-about-autism-68996

Social media, neighbourhood relations and the new build estate

15 December 2016

Tina PatelDrawing on data gathered from 70 respondents, this blog reports on a recent study* which examined how residents on a new build estate (referred to here as ‘the Village’) used social media, or more specifically two Facebook pages (referred to here as ‘FB(A)’ and ‘FB(B)’) associated with the Village, to build relationships with one another, develop a sense of pride in place, and, establish ‘rules’ about acceptable neighbourly behaviour.

Both FB(A) and FB(B) had high numbers of members and posts were made on a regular basis on matters usually related to the Village, such as Village events and updates on the next phases of the development, or on issues of interest to its residents and/or members, such as local toddler playgroups and sports clubs. It was also evident that the Facebook pages played a key role in setting standards of neighbourly behaviour and establishing codes of conduct. Although these were informally set and met with varied degrees of conformity. What was clear though was that those who chose to actively use FB(A) and FB(B), found it to be a useful way of being able to create social bonds with other residents and importantly to stay connected whilst physically away from the Village. The Facebook pages also allowed for the development of neighbourhood reciprocity and the strengthening of community spirit in the Village. Many of the respondents were clearly proud of the Village, and engaged in activities which sought to promote its interests.

However, not all members of FB(A) and FB(B) reported positive experiences. This was especially true for members using FB(B), who referred to issues around social media’s anonymity enabling opportunities for abuse, and what they felt were the hidden agendas and self-promotion interests of some of its members. Tensions existed in views about what the neighbourhood rules were, especially in terms of who were considered to be rule-setters and rule-breakers. This appeared an issue given that Facebook allowed more easily for rule-setters and rule-abiders to highlight what they considered to be offending rule-breaking behaviour (or bodies), and in some cases name-and-shame them. It is worth noting that in many ways, the tensions that existed in the Village were linked to the specific difficulties associated with large, diverse new build estates per se – and in many of these cases, social media allowed for support and solutions to be offered to those who reported difficulties.

In short, the study’s findings suggest that neighbouring is still important and brings with it a number of personal and social benefits. But, processes of neighbouring have clearly changed. Specifically, they have moved away from being conducted solely or even largely on a face-to-face basis – not least because our lives are busier, with key commitments (such as sites of employment) occurring in places away from the neighbourhood. In addition, the neighbourhood has grown. It has become more diversified and has come to contain a varied composition of residents whose lives and interests differ enormously from one another. Although this composition issue has not lessened the value of neighbouring, it has nevertheless forced it to change.

It is therefore unsurprising to see neighbouring occurring more regularly in the virtual realm and via the use of social media sites such as Facebook. Neighbouring in this way more readily allows differences to be negotiated, not least because many of these differences can be kept out of view or made relatively insignificant, up to a point at least. Social media, if used considerately, in proportion and with caution, can allow ‘new neighbours’ to initially connect with each other, to build meaningful relationships and to sustain these in ways that a reliance on in-person contact alone could not allow. From this emerge opportunities for healthy and positive neighbourly relations.

* An academic paper based on the study and its findings is currently being prepared.

Dr Tina G. Patel is a senior lecturer in Criminology. To hear more about Tina’s work, you can follow her on Twitter: @DrTinaPatel or in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrTinaPatel

Unlocking the Knowledge and Experience of Autism in the Prison: A Staff and Inmate Perspective

11 July 2016

Clare AllelyHer Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) Feltham is the first prison or young offender institution in the country to be awarded Autism Accreditation. Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) Feltham has been working with The National Autistic Society (NAS) for over two years to improve the way they support offenders with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are in custody. The aim of Accreditation is to improve autism practice across all areas of prison life, including: admission, prison staff training, behaviour management and the physical environment, with the long term aim of tackling issues often faced by prisoners with ASD and ultimately reducing the risk of recidivism in this group.

Clare Hughes, Criminal Justice Manager for Autism Accreditation, The National Autistic Society, said: “We’re delighted to award Feltham with Autism Accreditation and that the Minister could be here to mark this important moment”.

Clare Hughes goes on to highlight a number of important issues: “Autistic people can end up in the prison system, just like anyone else. But their experience is often more traumatic because their additional needs aren’t recognised and met. This pilot has made clear that improved understanding of autism among prison staff, simple adjustments and better support can address many of these issues and improve prison life for prisoners and staff alike” (http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2016-02-25-first-autism-accredited-prison.aspx).

However, despite prison interest and some prisons being involved with pilot work within the UK, Feltham remains the only prison in the UK to have Autism Accreditation. Given that there are a number of studies suggesting that the prevalence of ASD is higher in the prison population when compared to the general population (e.g., Scragg & Shah, 1994), it highlights the urgent need for more prisons to gain Autism Accreditation and for further research to gain more of an understanding the specific needs of inmates with ASD and prison staffs knowledge of the disorder.

Recognising the importance of research in this field, lecturers at the University of Salford, Dr Clare Allely and Dr Toni Wood, have combined their expertise in a unique project which will involve questionnaires and semi-structured interviews of a broad section of prison staff as well as inmates with ASD with the aim of increasing our understanding of what areas could be improved on and, crucially, to assist in the development of a toolkit for prison staff in order to try and increase the identification, recognition and understanding of ASD within the prison environment.

Our project addresses a real gap in the research. To date, the research looking at these issues is sparse. In fact, to date, there has only been one study which has explored prison staffs’ knowledge and understanding of ASD (McAdam, 2009). McAdam (2009) identified five prisoners with a diagnosis of an ASD (four with a diagnosis of AS and one with autism) over six months in one of the largest prisons in England. Two of the five seemed to need little support but the other three struggled significantly with the prison environment. Overall, McAdam (2009) emphasised that in prison, many individuals with ASD do not receive the appropriate care that they need. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

The importance of projects such as the one by Dr Toni Wood and Dr Clare Allely cannot be stressed enough when you read the literature which suggests that individuals with ASD are more vulnerable to bullying and social isolation within the prison environment (Allely, 2015a). In a review of the literature published last year, Allely (2015b) identified only four studies which investigated the experience of individuals with ASD in the prison. While important and increasing the awareness of this area, all four studies involved case studies and small samples.

The case reports reviewed by Allely (2015b) clearly highlighted that inmates with ASDs can experience numerous difficulties within the prison environment such as poor relationships with prison staff and other inmates. Specifically it is important to bear in mind that the environment is experienced as particularly stressful, distressing and intense for many individuals with ASD compared to their neuro-typical fellow inmates. These findings are also supported in another review which was published around the same time (Robertson & McGillivray, 2015).

However, as highlighted by Dr Clare Allely and Dr Toni Wood, there is a significant lack of empirical research investigating the experiences of individuals with ASD in the prison environment and prison staffs’ knowledge and understanding of the disorder. Our aim is that the findings from this project, and the development of the toolkit, will help inform appropriate and effective provisions, interventions and support for individuals with ASD in prison. Additionally, to increase awareness and identification of individuals with ASD in the prison environment (McCarthy, Chaplin, Underwood, Forrester, Hayward et al., 2015a; Underwood, McCarthy, Chaplin, Forrester, Mills, & Murphy, 2016). Ultimately, we hope to increase recognition of this area with the hope that more prisons in the UK will seek Autism Accreditation.

The urgency of further research is further emphasised by a number of studies which have shown that the severity of ASD traits is a risk factor for suicidality and common mental health issues in prison inmates (McCarthy, Underwood, Hayward, Chaplin, Forrester, Mills, & Murphy, 2015b).

The researchers on this project state that “It is hoped that this project is just the beginning of much more research in this relatively neglected area that we will be working on in years to come”. 

References

Allely, C. S. (2015a). Autism spectrum disorders in the criminal justice system: police interviewing, the courtroom and the prison environment. Recent Advances in Autism, 1-13.

Allely, C. S. (2015b). Experiences of prison inmates with autism spectrum disorders and the knowledge and understanding of the spectrum amongst prison staff: a review. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 6(2), 55-67.

Lewis, A., Pritchett, R., Hughes, C., & Turner, K. (2015). Development and implementation of autism standards for prisons. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 6(2), 68-80.

McAdam, P. (2009). Knowledge and understanding of the autism spectrum amongst prison staff. Good Autism Practice (GAP), 10(1), 19-25.

McCarthy, J., Chaplin, E., Underwood, L., Forrester, A., Hayward, H., Sabet, J., … & Murphy, D. (2015a). Screening and diagnostic assessment of neurodevelopmental disorders in a male prison. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 6(2), 102-111.

McCarthy, J., Underwood, L. I. S. A., Hayward, H., Chaplin, E., Forrester, A., Mills, R., & Murphy, D. (2015b). Autism Spectrum Disorder and Mental Health Problems Among Prisoners. European Psychiatry, 30, 864.

Robertson, C. E., & McGillivray, J. A. (2015). Autism behind bars: a review of the research literature and discussion of key issues. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 26(6), 719-736.

Scragg, P., & Shah, A. (1994). Prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome in a secure hospital. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 165(5), 679-682.

Underwood, L., McCarthy, J., Chaplin, E., Forrester, A., Mills, R., & Murphy, D. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners. Advances in Autism, 2(3).

Clare Allely Lecturer in Psychology

Beyond drink, ‘thugs’ and ‘disease’: football-related violence at the Euros

14 June 2016

Tony Ellis

The 2016 European football championships currently being held in France kicked off last Friday evening. But so far events on the pitch have been largely overshadowed by violent clashes off it between rival fans. At the centre of the disorder has been one of the usual suspects, England supporters. These latest events seem to have resurrected somewhat the haunting spectre of English hooliganism which, on the back of declining recorded rates of football-related disorder, some have claimed is slowly being consigned to the dustbin of history (Ingle, 2013). While many have been asking the usual rhetorical – clichéd – questions such as, ‘why do they do it?’ and ‘what’s the point of fighting at football matches?’, some sections of the mainstream media have predictably vilified English supporters at the Euros, wheeling out the well-established and rather simplistic metaphor of ‘disease’ and its associated motifs of drink-fuelled ‘over the top’ patriotism and general ‘yobbish’ behaviour.

While there clearly are some England fans at the Euros engaging in ‘anti-social’ behaviour and a minority of committed English hooligans intent on engaging in violence, the evidence emerging out of France paints a rather more complex picture in terms of motivations behind the disorder and its broader context. In particular, the presence of what are being described as ‘organised’ groups of Russian fans reported to be indiscriminately targeting English supporters. This generates a number of important questions about the possible reasons behind football-related violence on an international stage.

In response to some of the clichéd questions mentioned above, men that actively involve themselves in football violence and disorder invariably identify the ‘buzz’ and the ‘thrill’ they get out of doing it. Men involved in football violence that I have interviewed and spent time with during my research (Ellis, 2016) value the reputation and status that displaying ‘bottle’ or courage in the face of threatening circumstances provides them. Football violence is bound up with notions of individual and collective reputations, status, as well as shame. It is a game of one-upmanship, in which both victory in a fight as well as stoicism in adversity, grants respect and potential bragging rights. Inevitably, on an international stage, nationalism and patriotism will become bound up with these complex cultural mores and this is evident in the clashes between English and Russian fans. England is a former colonial power, and, as part of the UK, it now has a significant influence in the global political economy. The violence committed by some English supporters historically during international fixtures, as well as the recent history of regular ‘organised’ fan disorder at domestic matches, and the highly stylised and exaggerated English hooligan film industry, have collectively established a specific reputation for English fans as a whole that is largely synonymous with dominance and the willingness to use violence. As a consequence of this socio-historical context, England is undoubtedly perceived as a significant scalp for some rival fans perhaps keen to bolster their own reputations. After emerging from the wreckage of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, particularly under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, has at times sought to re-assert itself as a global power; occasionally through displays of force. And the occasional aggressive actions of the Russian state has arguably not been lost on some of its citizens; particularly those involved in street-based violence (see Shashkin, 2008).

So, a critical appreciation of both the immediate and broader contexts in which football violence, and violence more generally, is enacted can aid our understanding of these incidents beyond some of the rather simplistic narratives currently been espoused that identify drink, ‘thugs’ and ‘disease’ as the causes of the disorder.

Anthony Ellis, Lecturer in Criminology and Sociology

References

Ellis, A (2016) Men, masculinities and violence: an ethnographic study. London: Routledge

Ingle, S (2013) Football hooliganism, once the English disease, is more like a cold sore now. The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/nov/03/english-football-hooliganism Accessed 14th June 2016

Shashkin, A (2008) Origins and development of racist skinheads in Moscow. In Van Gemert, F Peterson, D and Lien IL (eds) Street Gangs, Migration and Ethnicity. Oxon: Willan p.97-114

  • Anthony discussed the Euro2016 football violence on BBC Radio Manchester 13/6/2016 listen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03x0lgy (1hr 13 mins into the programme)