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Is the justice system failing people with Autism Spectrum Conditions?

Free access to a special issue of the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour

United Kingdom,  28 August 2013 – A small but significant number of people with autism who engage in illegal behaviour find themselves socially excluded or detained in secure provisions for prolonged periods. This has led many to regard the criminal justice system as failing people with Autism Spectrum Conditions.

In a special issue of the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, entitled 'Autism spectrum conditions and offending,' Guest Editors Eddie Chaplin of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and Jane McCarthy, of St Andrew’s Healthcare and the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, bring together some of the latest key research in this area for the first time. It is available now and can be freely read until 27 September 2013 by visiting and using the following details to login: username: autism, password: emerald2013

People with an Autism Spectrum Condition may not fully understand the consequences of their actions, in particular the impact that they have on others. However, whether or not having an Autism Spectrum Condition makes somebody more likely to commit a criminal offence is currently not known due to a lack of evidence to support a specific association. Eddie Chaplin and Jane McCarthy comment: "The greater media awareness of autism has coincided with the reporting of a number of high profile criminal cases involving people with autism. This coverage is rarely positive and often promotes unhelpful stereotypes which directly influence how the public view all people with autism. This special edition comes at a critical time and tries to redress this balance by increasing our understanding of people with autism across forensic services and the criminal justice system. We believe it offers a significant contribution to the debate by examining our current knowledge and adding to the evidence and understanding of offending in this group."

The special issue addresses some of the key considerations when working with people with Autism Spectrum Conditions in the criminal justice system. Going further than simply adding to the research evidence base, it addresses some of the problems faced across a range of settings, including:

•    An overview and summary of previous research on autism and offending.
•    Consideration of autism in different secure settings: low and medium secure care and prison.
•    An examination of how tolerant we should be of challenging behavior.
•    The special considerations needed when completing risk assessments with this group.
•    Whether the justice system is failing people with autism.
•    Forensic rehabilitation and Asperger syndrome.

Carol Povey, Director of the Centre for Autism, National Autistic Society comments: "When a person with autism is involved in the criminal justice system, the nature of their difficulties may not be recognised or may be misunderstood. In these circumstances it is possible for miscarriages of justice to occur and it is therefore vital that those people coming in contact with them are familiar with autism and its complexities. This special edition is therefore a very welcome initiative."

Published by Emerald Group Publishing, this special issue is Volume 4 Issue 1/2 of the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour,  aimed at everyone who supports people with intellectual disabilities who are (or are in danger of becoming) involved with the criminal justice or forensic health systems. For more information visit

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