Identifying and supporting offenders with learning disabilities and autism

We’re helping to provide health and social services in court to people with learning disabilities (LD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which could help 150 people a year get the care they need instead of ending up in prison.

We are supporting a new project led by London South Bank University  (LSBU) in collaboration with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) with nearly £675,000.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College London has led the project evaluation and will provide specialist forensic insight to the service on these conditions.

The grant will be used for screening and clinical assessment to help identify and support offenders with LD and ASD from across Lambeth and Southwark.

Currently too many offenders with LD and ASD go to prison instead of being diverted to community care to get the right help. These diagnoses tend to go unrecognised as judges often lack specialised training and there are no effective liaison and diversion services. This can result in offenders having long-term social disadvantages, vulnerability and mental health problems, and can lead to reoffending and even suicide.

The service will be piloted for over two years at Camberwell Green Magistrates Youth Court, which sees 1,000 defendants each year. Around 150 of them have significant difficulties relating to LD and ASD.

The Court already has a liaison and diversion service provided by mental health charity Together and SLaM, which was also set up with our support and currently identifies offenders with mental illness, but not LD and ASD. The pilot will build on the success of this service and involve awareness training for prison staff working with people who have these conditions.

It will also help develop a network of support for offenders and give them specialist care including weekly contact with a case manager who will offer guidance around mental wellbeing and problem solving for common health needs. Part of the support also includes signposting them to community and local arts projects to promote inclusion and reduce reoffending rates.

Nikki Crane, Head of Arts Strategy at the Charity says:

“We’re excited to support this project transform local services for offenders with LD and ASD. Diverting people from prison by identifying the disorders earlier on will help to reduce reoffending rates, as well as improving their wellbeing and engagement by signposting them to appropriate services and high quality arts programmes.”

Dr Jane McCarthy, Consultant Psychiatrist at King’s College London says:

“We have been offered a fantastic opportunity by Guy's and St Thomas' Charity to make a long term difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable offenders in our criminal justice system. We welcome working in partnership across agencies with the support of LSBU to deliver an innovative approach to this group of offenders through an art based approach within the local community."

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