Working together to help people with autism in police custody

A new link-up is helping to better support people with autism who come into police custody.

By Andrew Coulson
Friday, 15th October 2021, 12:27 pm
Representatives from Northumbria Police and CNTW, and Richie Smith, centre.
Representatives from Northumbria Police and CNTW, and Richie Smith, centre.

Custody officers and staff at Northumbria Police have been working together with specialists from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) and those who are experts by experience for the benefit of those with autism who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

People living with Autism Spectrum Disorder can often find it difficult when faced with situations they are not familiar with and can become overwhelmed by sensory issues.

In order to better understand how being in custody can impact those with autism, Northumbria Police and CNTW enlisted the help of Richie Smith – who set-up community interest company Awesometistic after being diagnosed with autism.

He played the role of someone being brought into custody with autism as part of an arrest simulation to get a real idea of what issues people might encounter when coming into custody.

These simulations covered the full experience of being arrested, going into the holding cells and an interview scenario.

Richie said: “Putting myself through these simulated arrests has been hard, but has been totally worth it.

“The small changes being made as a result of my feedback will lead to a big improvements in the experiences autistic people will have in custody. Thank you to the teams at CNTW and Northumbria Police for working with me to make a change.

Northumbria Police Sergeant Helen Davison said: “By working together with Richie and the team at CNTW, it has enabled us to understand the custody process very clearly through the eyes of someone with autism and identify where we could better support them.

“For example, Richie explained to us that while officers were completing his risk assessment, he’d stopped listening because of everything else going on in the room – different smells, reflected lights, other people touching his property.

“That was very useful feedback for us because it’s really important that the person understands what we are asking and can answer fully and accurately.”

Amii Soulsby, criminal justice liaison and diversion clinical lead at CNTW, said: “Working alongside people with lived experience in this way is the most effective approach to identify areas of good practice and look to develop services further.”