Autistic people in contact with the police – understanding identification, prevalence, characteristics and journeys into and out of police services

This research will focus on the experiences of autistic people who come into contact with the police and the criminal justice system.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Principle Investigator: Dr. Magali-Fleur Barnoux; Co-Investigators: Prof Glynis Murphy and Dr Allyn Thomas
Police region
South East
Collaboration and partnership

Kent Police Headquarters.

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

In the UK, while most autistic people lead law-abiding lives, some can, and do come into contact with the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

The majority of our knowledge about autistic people in the CJS stems from prison- and/or hospital-based studies. We know very little about autistic people who come into contact with the police in terms of identification, characteristics, and their journeys through the earlier stages of the CJS.

Yet autistic people are thought to be more likely to come into contact with the police compared to those who are not autistic, though exact numbers are unknown due to an absence of formal diagnostic procedures in place for identifying autism in individuals within the earlier stages of the CJS.

As their first point of contact, it is vital police staff are able to accurately identify an individual as autistic in order to make appropriate and informed decisions about the support needed and their subsequent journey through the CJS.

Thus, we aim to do the following in a mixed-methods pilot study designed in collaboration with Kent Police Headquarters.

  1. Understand how people are currently identified as autistic by police services in England. 

  2. Gain initial insight into the prevalence, characteristics, and journeys through police services of autistic individuals based on the current data recorded.

  3. Garner the views of police service professionals on the current regulations, processes, information recording, and support services in place for autistic people who come into contact with the police.

Research methodology

Two-part mixed methods study.

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