This blog by Policy Officer Noorjehan Piperdy explores the review of neurodiversity in the criminal justice system (CJS), published by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates, alongside two service user reports published by KeyRing and User Voice. It looks at the key issues highlighted in the reports, including the lack of data and screening and explores how the findings can lead to better outcomes for people with neurodivergent conditions in contact with the CJS.
In December 2020, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC Member of Parliament, commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation to carry out an independent review of neurodiversity in the criminal justice system (CJS), with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services supporting this work. The aim of this was to explore how the needs of neurodivergent people are being identified and met within the CJS and to make recommendations to government.
The inspectorates use the term ‘neurodiversity’ as an umbrella term to refer to the group of conditions that fall under the broader category of neurodevelopmental disorders. They recognise that the definition of neurodivergence used in this review is broad and within the range of conditions covered, there can be a huge variation in the impact of any one of them on daily life.
The review focusses on four main themes and considers the impact of Covid-19 on each of them:
- Screening undertaken to identify neurodivergence in CJS service users
- Adjustments that have been made to existing provision to support those with neurodivergent needs
- Programmes and interventions which have been specifically designed or adapted for neurodivergent needs
- Training and support available to staff to help them support people with neurodivergent needs.
There was an open call for evidence to inform the review, and we were pleased to be commissioned to host a roundtable with voluntary organisations working in the CJS to ensure their views and experiences could be heard. We welcome the proactive steps the inspectorates used to garner the views of people with lived experience not only through an easy read submission form, but also through commissioning both KeyRing and User Voice to gather the views and experience of people they are working with who have been diagnosed with the neurodiverse conditions.
The review of evidence can be found here, alongside reports from User Voice and KeyRing. An easy read version of the review of evidence is also available. We welcome the production of an easy read report and hope that the inspectorates and other statutory bodies will publish easy read versions as standard following this review of evidence.
The inspectorates state that the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) own equality, diversity and inclusion objectives ‘fair treatment, fair outcomes and equal access for all our service users’ is clearly not being achieved for all neurodivergent people. They make six recommendations in their report, with the main or overarching recommendation being the development of a coordinated and cross-government approach and that this strategy should be developed together with people with personal experience of neurodivergence. The MoJ should provide an action plan to address these recommendations within three months, followed by updates on progress at six and 12 months.
Prevalence of neurodiversity in the CJS
The review highlights that there is no “reliable, consistent or systematic data collected, either within individual services or across the CJS as a whole which can tell us about the extent of neurodiversity.” This makes it challenging for us to know how many people in contact with the CJS have neurodiverse conditions and whether their needs are being met.
Screening is an important tool to help identify whether someone may have a neurodivergent condition, learning difficulty or disability and will usually take the form of a checklist of indicators. The review of evidence found that despite there being a wide range of screening tools and reporting systems in operation, none were consistently used and information was not necessarily transferred, either in full or at all, to those in a position to make use of it. Two thirds (66%) of service users User Voice spoke to had not been asked, assessed, or diagnosed with a neurodiverse condition during their journey through the criminal justice system.
We are therefore pleased to see the inspectorates make the following recommendations related specifically to screening:
- A common screening tool for universal use within the criminal justice system should be introduced, supported by an information sharing protocol specifying how information should be appropriately shared within and between agencies, to make sure that necessary adjustments and extra support are provided for individuals as they progress through the criminal justice system
- Screening data should be systematically collected and aggregated to provide a more accurate assessment of the prevalence of neurodivergence to inform needs analysis and service planning at all levels of the criminal justice system.
Responding to needs
The inspectorates explicitly state that they were ‘struck’ by the number of times people referred to the behaviour of neurodivergent people as ‘difficult’ and outlined the barriers and treatment of neurodivergent individuals that come into contact with the CJS. In prison, challenging behaviour exhibited by neurodivergent prisoners could result in them being disciplined or sanctioned, and a lack of suitable programmes can also mean that their offending behaviour is not adequately addressed and they receive poor preparation for release from prison. The report goes on to outline that on release or whilst under probation supervision, neurodivergent people may be less likely to understand or comply with their requirements, potentially leading to breach and recall to prison.
The evidence review found that only 28% of respondents from police and probation services, and 24% of those from prisons, said that they had received any training about neurodiversity. User Voice reported that 76% of the service users they spoke to stated that staff in the criminal justice system did not understand their neurological needs. Many who responded to the call for evidence therefore outlined the need for more formal support and training for staff and practitioners and outlined the need for a greater understanding of the range of conditions and how they may present; the type of challenges experienced by neurodivergent people; the kinds of adjustments that can be made; and referral routes for further support or diagnosis. Indeed, KeyRing states that the key message from its engagement with experts by experience is that people need support that is appropriate to their individual needs from the point of arrest through to the end of their probation.
We welcome the inspectorates’ recommendation that:
- A programme of awareness-raising and specialist training should be developed and delivered to staff working within criminal justice services. For frontline staff this learning should be broad-based, mandatory, raise awareness of neurodivergent conditions and how they impact on communication and be supported by practical strategies for working with neurodivergent people. More specialised training should be provided for staff whose roles require it. The programme should be developed and delivered in consultation with people who have personal experience of neurodivergence.
The review did find some examples of good practice, with the most promising approaches taking a partnership approach. Where partnership working was being developed, the inspectorates found that there was greater understanding of the experience of neurodivergent people with services being adjusted according to their needs.
We welcome this review and the proactive steps the inspectorates have made to engage with voluntary organisations and the people they work with who have neurodivergent conditions. We are engaging with the Ministry of Justice to work to ensure voluntary organisations can act as strategic partners as they respond to the recommendations in the report.