Feltham has become the first prison or young offender institution to be awarded Autism Accreditation. The HM Young Offenders Institute has been working with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to improve the way they support autistic offenders in custody.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous has called on other establishments to follow Feltham’s lead.
Autistic people currently represent 4.5% of the population at Feltham. Research has found that autistic people represent some of the most vulnerable people in the offender population.
Feltham first contacted the NAS in May 2014 looking for guidance to tackle the issues faced by autistic prisoners. A year later, after seeing the work going on at Feltham, the Prisons Minister wrote to all prison governors and directors, encouraging them to consider working towards Autism Accreditation. Since then, the NAS has been working with Feltham, and the service providers within the prison, to redesign its existing Autism Accreditation scheme by creating specialist standards across education, healthcare and the prison itself.
The Accreditation aims to improve autism practice across every area of prison life, such as admission, staff training, behaviour management and the physical environment, with a long-term view of tackling issues often faced by autistic prisoners and ultimately lowering reoffending rates.
The pilot showed that relatively simple changes could make a big difference, like familiarising staff with autism, allowing an autistic prisoner to use communal areas at quieter times or making reasonable adjustments to the building, such as creating areas with minimal stimuli by reducing posters and notices.
The NAS hopes to roll out the scheme more widely and work with other prisons and young offender institutions to improve their autism practice. Parc, Wakefield and Dovegate prisons are also involved in the pilot and almost 30 others have expressed interest in becoming accredited.
Selous congratulated Feltham on its accreditation. “Staff have worked hard to achieve this award which recognises their enthusiasm and dedication to supporting the individuals in their charge,” he said.
“Prisoners with autism have specific needs and, in many cases, small adjustments to the regime and the estate can tackle those problems, giving them a better chance to engage in rehabilitation. I am delighted that numerous other prisons are expressing interest in NAS Accreditation.”
Clare Hughes, criminal justice manager for Autism Accreditation at the NAS, added: “Autistic people can end up in the prison system, just like anyone else. But their experience is often more traumatic because their additional needs aren't recognised and met. This pilot has made clear that improved understanding of autism among prison staff, simple adjustments and better support can address many of these issues and improve prison life for prisoners and staff alike.
"We're grateful to the brilliant team at Feltham for helping us develop the Accreditation standards. We hope other prisons and young offenders’ institutions will follow the minister’s call and work with us to improve autism practice and expertise."
Mo Foster, head of young people and services at Feltham, said: "The work that we have achieved has brought about many improvements to the service, but the key achievement, in my opinion, has been that all staff now have an increased awareness of people with autism. This has had the biggest impact.
“Staff previously may have been aware of a prisoner being autistic, but wouldn’t really have known what that meant or how it might impact on the prisoner. Now they do. Now they know that they might need to change the way that they approach or communicate with the person. They know the strategies to put in place or where to go to ask for help.”
Kim Turner, speech and language therapist at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, said: “We had been running the autism service for a numbers of years at Feltham, but we wanted to do more to ensure that prisoners on the autism spectrum got the best all round care possible. At that time there were no Autism Accreditation standards for prisons, so we approached the NAS to develop best practice which could be introduced more widely within prisons.
“We're really pleased to have been instrumental in devising these standards for prisons, so young people in Feltham and around the country can get the treatment and support they needed.”