The Autism and the Criminal Justice Centre for Excellence was established in 2015 at the University of Salford. The Founders, Clare Allely and Toni Wood, brought together their different areas of expertise Forensic Psychology and Criminology respectively. Clare has been extremely passionate about researching autism for over 15 years. Researching everything from pain experience in individuals with autism to the neurobiological abnormalities in the first few years of life in individuals later diagnosed with autism. In 2015 published a review paper in the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour about the experiences of prison inmates with autism spectrum disorders and the knowledge and understanding of the spectrum amongst prison staff: a review. This review highlighted the lack of research in this field and Clare urgently wanted to address this gap in the knowledge by carrying out research within prisons in the North West of England. Since this publication, Clare has published a number of papers looking at how autism symptomology can contribute to a range of different offending behaviours including: child pornography; arson; sex offending; violent offending; bestiality; mass shooting and terroristic activities.
Back in 2015, it was at the point of wanting to conduct research in the field of autism in the prison environment that Clare and Toni met at the University. Toni’s primary research interest is the health and wellbeing in secure environments. Toni’s PhD thesis was based upon an ethnographic exploration of female prison officers in a women’s prison in the North of England. She was interested to further understand the working lives of female prison officers, the challenges they faced on a daily basis and the relationships they formed with prisoners and prison staff. Prior to this Toni was a researcher on the Triangle Project evaluation in HMPYOI Styal and a researcher on the Choose Change evaluation in HMP Manchester. She has experience in both the male and female prison estates in England and Wales researching both prisoners and prison staff.
It was during the research project exploring individuals’ experiences of autism in the prison environment and also prison staffs’ knowledge and understanding that it became clear that individuals with autism can experience difficulties across the whole of the criminal justice. Specifically, initial police contact; police custody and court proceedings. Following hours of discussions and meetings with a range of criminal professionals and health professionals, this original research project looking at autism in the prison environment has expanded significant. It now encompasses a whole range of projects spanning all of these areas including secure psychiatric estate.
The Autism and the Criminal Justice Centre for Excellence is growing and includes a passionate and driven team of PhD students, Research Assistants; the expertise from individuals with autism who have experience of the criminal justice system and Project Consultants