How do people with autism interact with the criminal justice system? | Now

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In the United States, reports of young people with autism facing dangerous, upsetting and even fatal interactions with the criminal justice system are increasingly common. Research suggests that people with autism interact with the police at high rates; and that people with disabilities disproportionately experience police violence.

Researchers at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University recently published research that identified the experiences of people with autism and their caregivers in their interactions with the criminal justice system through analysis of a survey conducted throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

The study analyzed free-text responses and multiple-choice questions on the types of interactions with the justice system of the 2018 Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment (2018 PANA), a comprehensive survey of people with autism and their families that included questions on demographic and clinical information, as well as service needs and experiences.

The study sample of 3,902 individuals represents 47% of the 8,240 respondents to PANA 2018. A total of 839 respondents reported information about their interaction with the criminal justice system through the free text question.

The results highlighted the detailed experiences of people with autism and their caregivers as victims of an interaction, criminal offenders, and witnesses to crime, with respondents reporting both positive and negative experiences. Researchers have also identified an increased risk of interacting with the justice system, including being male and having a concurrent psychiatric diagnosis.

  • Among adult respondents with autism, men were almost twice as likely to be arrested and questioned by police, arrested or charged, while women were 32% more likely to be victims of a crime.
  • Having a concurrent psychiatric diagnosis was associated with approximately 2.7 times the risk of interacting with the justice system and 2.4 times the risk of being a victim of crime in people with autism.
  • Among the caregivers, having an annual family income over $ 40,000 protected against being a victim of crime.
  • Living with a roommate or family member protected against being a victim of crime among caregivers regarding their autistic child.

Analysis of the free-text responses yielded several themes.

  • A quarter of respondents described being the victim of a crime.
  • A quarter of respondents described being a offender.
  • A small number of respondents (1.5%) said they had witnessed a crime.
  • Almost equal proportions of respondents described a positive perception of the justice system (8%) and a negative perception of the justice system (9%).
  • Finally, a small but notable proportion of respondents (1.5%) indicated that they feared future interaction with the justice system.

These results have an impact because they come directly from the voices of people with autism and their families, ”said Kaitlin Koffer Miller, lead author of the study and director of Policy Impact at the Policy and Analytics Center at the Autism Institute. “Understanding the type and extent of interaction with the justice system helps to plan and resolve issues that could prevent future interactions of all types. “

The research team explained that improving access for people with autism to services and supports at home and in the community can prevent or mitigate interactions between people with autism and the justice system, both as a victims and offenders. The study team hopes that the results of this study will propel policy to increase access to the supports needed to prevent these undesirable outcomes for people with autism.

Additionally, expanding pilot justice programs that include mental health professionals in crisis responses, such as the co-advocate model, will be beneficial in ensuring minimal trauma and escalation of interaction with the system. judicial.

The study, “Interactions with the Justice System Among People with Autism: A Multi-Method Analysis,” was recently published in the journal Crime & Delinquency. Co-authors include Alec Becker, Dylan Cooper and Lindsay Shea, DrPH of Drexel University.

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