A prison in Bridgend, South Wales, has become the first prison to achieve the Autism Accreditation award, after being recognised as a ‘beacon of autism best practice’ by the National Autistic Society.

Since establishing a dedicated unit for autistic people, people with learning disabilities and people with significant brain injuries, HMP Parc has seen a significant reduction in violence, self-harm, rule breaking, and substance misuse.

The prison takes a person-centred approach and individually assesses offenders during their induction to see whether they will need any additional support.

For those who are neurodivergent, the prison offers access to a sensory room, the use of eye masks and ear plugs, and allows people to collect food or medication at the start or end of queues.

They have also painted wings and landings different colours and have put up signs reminding visitors not to slam doors.

Reasonable adjustments for neurodivergent people must be made in prisons

Arianwen Selway, Parc’s Learning Disability Nurse, said it is “paramount that reasonable adjustments are made” for autistic people and those with learning disabilities.

“We have men who can’t tell the time, get confused by which landing they are on because everywhere looks the same and they can struggle to comply with complex prison rules and processes which can lead to confrontations and incidents with staff and other offenders,” she said.

It is therefore extremely important that additional learning needs are identified and supported, as it “can have a significant impact on physical and psychological wellbeing as well as their ability to complete their sentence and reintegrate into society.”

What the prison has achieved goes “far above and beyond what is considered best practice”

HMP Parc has been working closely with the National Autistic Society for a number of years to achieve these high standards. Christine Flintoft-Smith, the National Autistic Society’s Head of Autism Accreditation, said what the prison has accomplished is “fantastic”.

“It goes far above and beyond what is considered best practice and is a really positive sign for the criminal justice system as a whole,” she added.

Flintoft-Smith said that other prisons should now “follow the innovative work taking place at HMP Parc”, as the same support should be available to “every autistic person in custody.”

The National Autistic Society are now urging the government to accept the findings of a report published by the former Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland MP, which found that better assessment, treatment and support in prisons could help break the cycle of crime.