I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.
— Maya Angelou
“Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
― Paulo Freire
Challenging the Criminalisation of Autistic People
one of the last sanctioned areas of institutionalised discrimination in the UK
We are a support and campaign group set up to hold Government and other public
bodies accountable for injustices and abuses against autistic adults and children
The short term aim of our campaign is discussed here
Our longer term aims are:
That criminal justice and care professionals are aware of and follow existing guidelines and policy relating to autistic people in a way that properly safeguards them.
That these professionals, as well as the general public, understand autism so that autistic people's appearance and/or behaviour is not misunderstood and misrepresented in a way that puts them at risk of serious harm.
READ ALL INDIVIDUAL STORIES HERE—some of whom cannot be identified to protect their anonymity.
Transform Justice is a national charity working for a fair, humane, open and effective justice system:
"Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change—by generating research and evidence to show how the system works and how it could be improved, and by persuading the public to support those changes and practitioners and politicians to make them."
Rightfullives is an online exhibition exploring the human rights of people with learning disabilities and autism through their thoughts, experiences, multimedia and art works:
"The exhibits are full of joy and laughter, anguish, pain and ocassionally strong language. They will make you smile, cry and rage."
“In recent weeks, the appalling situation of thousands of autistic people in Assessment and Treatment Units has come to the nation’s attention again. ... Campaigns to change the appalling situation and how you can help." 16th November 2018 (see also NAS 'Criminal Justice Newsletters')
RECENT NEWS ITEMS:
1/ AUTISTIC CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE BEING ASSAULTED AND DYING IN PRIVATE HOSPITALS
FUNDED BY NHS:
"Profiteers of Misery: Parents slam health fat cats in UK and US who are raking in as much as £730,000 annually for every autistic child they ‘lock up’ in secretive secure psychiatric units."
Ian Birrell writing for Mail on Sunday, 10th November 2018
"... at least 40 people with learning disabilities and autism have died whilst being held in assessment and treatment units in the last three years".
Luciana Berger MP writing in The Times, 8 November 2018
"The barbaric treatment included patients being kept in isolation in padded cells, fed like animals through hatches, and injected with powerful drugs to make them easier to control. Tales of forcible restraint were also common, with some young people being subdued by up to six adults at a time."
Daily Mail, 4th November 2018
"Physical restraint used on 50% more NHS patients with learning disabilities."
The Guardian, 2nd October, 2018
In addition to stories already reported on this site such as Beth, Adam, Alexis and Lucas', the following were reported in the press during October and November 2018, including were autistic youngsters (as young as 13) are locked away in privately run 'Assessment & Treatment Units' (ATUs) and often criminalised for violence against health care workers after they themselves had been physically assaulted:
Oliver, died in hospital after being forcibly given anti-psychotic medication that he and his parents had warned staff he was allergic too—never mind that autistic people with no mental illness should not be 'treated' with psychotropic drugs because autism is not an 'illness'.
"Stephanie was 13 stone when shut away. Seven years later, her weight had doubled—and she was dead."
"Matthew ... was so depressed he hardly ate, barely talked, stayed in bed and tore out clumps of his own hair."
Eddie, "sectioned at 13 after a ‘meltdown' [...] stuck in a tiny padded cell where he slept on a plastic mattress, was fed through a hatch, ate on the floor and had just a bowl for a toilet – watched all the time by guards through a glass window."
Chris, "has been given medication against the wishes of his parents that left him heavily sedated and his weight to crash, while he has also been subjected to seclusion in padded cells without even toilet paper."
Tony, "was sent away supposedly for nine months, but has now spent almost 18 years in ATUs. ... has been abused, they [his parents] have seen him stuck in seclusion and his arm was badly broken in three places."
Stephen, "has been held in secure units all his adult life, first going into an ATU when he was 17 ... he was now so drugged that ‘he drags his feet along the ground and can hardly move' ... taken to self-harming, smashing his head against walls and punching himself – signs of extreme stress."
At the same time that autistic people are being assaulted and are losing their lives in secure hospitals, the Government is bringing in new laws to make it even easier to criminalise people who assault emergency workers:
a) 'NHS will adopt 'zero tolerance' approach to violence against it's staff"
BBC News, 31 October 2018
While no one would condone the assault of emergency workers, these new laws are open to abuse and provide a useful smokescreen for lack of NHS funding. The articles cited in these news reports demonstrate that, VIOLENT ASSAULTS AGAINST AUTISTIC PEOPLE BY HEALTHCARE WORKERS AND THE POLICE IS NOT ONLY TOLERATED, BUT A RESULT OF THE INNAPPROPRIATE AND OVER-ZEALOUS USE OF RESTRAINT AND SOCIAL ISOLATION IN LOCKED CELLS IN MANY PARTS OF 'CARE' SYSTEM.
The police are also calling for additional powers to retaliate against those who assault them— neglecting to acknowledge th dangers of autistic people being criminalised for assault while themselves being inappropriately restrained.
b) 'A new law is due to come into force this month that doubles the maximum jail term that can be handed down for attacking a member of the emergency services from six to 12 months in prison. [...] it was revealed that nearly half of the officers he [chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation] represents want more armed officers on the streets and a significant majority backed the routine issuing of Tasers.'
The Guardian, 20th November 2018
WATCH SKY NEWS FILM ON THESE ISSUES HIGHLIGHTING THAT THE GOVERNMENT WOULD RATHER GIVE MILLIONS TO THE NHS TO LOCK VULNERABLE PEOPLE UP IN PRIVATE HOSPITALS THAN TRANSFER THE MONEY TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES (who collude with the problem*) TO SUPPORT THESE PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY AT A FRACTION OF THE COST—AND IN A WAY THAT WOULD NOT BREACH THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS
* reports from families indicate that the Quality Care Commission (CQC), NHS England, individual Local Authorities, and other public bodies are actively obstructing the proper investigation of individual complaints.
2/ CRIMINALISING AUTISTIC BEHAVIOURS
14th August 2018: In a landmark case represented by Polly Sweeney from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, the parents of a 13-year-old autistic boy, supported by the National Autistic Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, were successful in winning an appeal against the exclusion from school of 'L' because of aggressive behaviour linked to his autism.
As The Guardian reported, 'Judge Alison Rowley, sitting in the upper tribunal, said it was “repugnant” to consider such behaviour as “criminal or antisocial” when it was a direct result of a child’s condition and “not a choice”. ... Noting that “aggressive behaviour is not a choice for children with autism”, Rowley found that a regulation under the Equality Act 2010 allowing schools to exclude disabled pupils for their behaviour without justification was unlawful and incompatible with human rights laws.'
It is interesting that the Judge chose to use the term 'criminal' to describe the way 'L''s behaviour was seen and responded to. This case has implications for the way that the young adults whose stories are told on this site continue to have their Human Rights breached. In their case, they are excluded from health and social services, ending up in the criminal justice system by default.*
School children grow up to be young adults and may well continue to display the same behaviours resulting from their autism with far more serious consequences than exclusion from school. Action is needed now to address the concerns raised by this campaign to prevent a new generation of young people being criminalised because of their autism, as well as providing justice for those already criminalised.
* Marcus Potter was released from prison in January this year because the judge ruled that he needed a care plan not a prison sentence. Although risks and support needs have been identified, 9 months later Marcus still does not have a care plan because the social worker who assessed him has taken months to decide that his care should be met by the Mental Health Team and not the Learning Disability Team (autism is neither a learning disability nor a mental illness, so Norwich clearly do not have any autism services). Even a direct appeal to the Director of Norfolk Social Services has been ignored. Marcus has been arrested a further 8 times since his release from prison, the last occasion for being spotted by the police within 100 yards of a police station and sent back to prison.
Attempts to relocate to Cambridge and study for a law degree have been thwarted by his criminal record—and so Marcus has also been excluded from education because of his autistic behaviours. Determined nonetheless, Marcus has now enrolled for a foundation Open University course. Read full story here.
3/ COMMONS JUSTICE COMMITTEE RELEASES DAMNING REPORT ON DISCLOSURE FAILINGS IN CRIMINAL
20th July 2018: The House of Commons Justice Committee published this scathing report confirming what criminal law practitioners have been saying for years: the criminal justice system is broken. The issues raised by the report are a feature of many of the stories told on this website, where supporting evidence and CCTV footage have not been disclosed, and defence evidence, including medical reports, have been ignored with devastating consequences for those involved.
Being Autistic in a Non-Autistic World
In situations where they are vulnerable, autistic adults should be protected and safeguarded from misunderstanding, neglect, discrimination and abuse. Paradoxically, those most at risk are often the ones at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum. This is precisely because they may outwardly pass, and often want to pass, as non-autistic. These folk are more likely to have their behaviours perceived and misrepresented as anti-social rather than autistic because they spend a good part of their day out in the community, away from the family home or care system. As long ago as 1993, American researchers identified that autistic people were seven times more likely to be arrested than non-autistic people, yet other research suggests that, of those arrested, the percentage of young people charged was significantly lower than for non-autistic youth. The stories of Bradley Grimes and Marcus Potter well illustrate this phenomena of the 'invisible disability’.
"It can be hard for people to accept but people who confess are not always guilty."
Chris Bath, Chief Executive, National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN)
The autistic person is estimated to be one in every hundred of the general population, a figure that is likely to be significantly underestimated. The autistic person is vulnerable and encounters problems with everyday living usually, as they tell us, when they come into contact with ‘neuro-typical’ people. Left to themselves, and in the absence of those troublesome necessities of the modern world like managing bank accounts, a tenancy, or going through a job recruitment process (even though many can, and do), the autistic person can be entirely fulfilled and contented. But until there is a much greater degree of tolerance and understanding of autism, never mind properly funded and informed support services, the autistic person is particularly vulnerable to being criminalised for no other reason than being autistic...
...continued on this page
To those who say—and they frequently do say—"Autism is not an excuse for criminal behaviour", of course it isn't, but the assumption is back to front. Those same people should take a long, hard look at the evidence, apply a bit of humanity and common sense, and ask themselves, "was the behaviour criminal at all or was the behaviour normal and understandable in the context of the person's disability and what triggered the behaviour in the first place?" In other cases, such as Panda's, he was arrested simply because he fitted some kind of profile of a terrorist suspect with no evidence to support it.
Perspective of Family and Friends
Imagine one day getting a phone call out of the blue that your child, sibling, close friend, etc.—who has had to have support and adjustments all through school—has been arrested and is in a police cell. Imagine further that the young person has no outward signs of disability but is mentally vulnerable and unable to speak up for themselves, either freezes completely or becomes highly agitated when frightened and is likely to say things to people in authority that they think they want to hear, just to please them. And then, if the police bother to contact you at all, they then refuse to let you see or speak to your child, sibling, close friend, ignore your protests that they are autistic, don't understand what autism is or think that its just some made up excuse, and then proceed to use all the powers at their disposal to charge the person with a criminal offence you know is absurd but are powerless to do anything about.
This is the beginning of a kafkaesque nightmare affecting possibley hundreds of families, whose children end up with anything from a trumped up charge for a minor offence, accepting a caution when they don't even understand what a caution is or its consequences, to serving a life sentence for a murder they did not commit. Following the initial shock you go into action. You believe you live in a just and civilised society, that a terrible mistake has been made, and that once the true facts of the situation are made known everything will be put right and you will be able to get on with your life.
The disturbing facts of the individual stories related on this site are evidence that we do not live in a civilised society, that the powerful systems of the state: the police, CPS, IOPC, ICO, and often sadly the judiciary themselves, do not always act in the intelligent and humane manner you might have hoped they would. Instead, they are often prepared to allow horrendous miscarriages of justice to continue simply to protect these grand institutions of the state from any suggestion that they may have got things wrong. They must be protected from criticism at all costs to give the impression that society is actually functioning and in safe hands.
This is Britain in the 21st Century, a reality described by director Ken Loach in his portrayal of the benefit system, I Daniel Blake, in which he presents State run organisations as a ‘monumental farce’ and what he describes as “intentional inefficiency of bureaucracy as a political weapon”. A more likely scenario is that relentless cuts to statutory services resulting from the Government's 'austerity' measures, has left these public bodies unable to deliver the services they were comissioned to provide. But instead of acknowledging this reality, adversarial complaints processes have been put in place to protect public services from criticism. The fall back position is, if you remain unhappy with the outcome of your complaint, go to judicial review—as though the most vulnerable in society have that option. Instead of protecting and safeguarding the vulnerable, which is the reason social workers, doctors, police officers, even the judiciary, came into their professions, for the most part they close ranks to protect the organisation that pays their wages but is no longer in any way functioning—in the process, adding to the abuse of the most vulnerable in society.
At worst, it is a mad world of unbelievable perversions, collusion and dirty tricks—behaviour that often goes all the way to the very top of these organisations and further, to those they themselves are accountable to in Government. If you do complain to ministers, they tell you that they cannot get involved in individual casework decisions and send you back down the snake to those you complained about in the first place. And so these public bodies, who are no longer able to deliver the services they were set up to provide, become even more dysfunctional and abusive in the full knowledge that no one is scrutinising them or holding them to account. How else could the systemic failures of justice described on this site be allowed to happen unchallenged.
See recent article in The Times
As if the battle that parents of autistic adults and children have to fight to safeguard their children—and get the support and services they are entitled to—is not hard enough, they can often find themselves demonised by the very 'professionals' who they trying to work with or hold to account, either for the delivery of services, or failures of care or justice. As long ago as the 1950s, and a prevailing theory of the time that 'refrigerator mothers' were responsible for their children's autism, some parents have faced similar allegations such as 'attachment disorder' or even 'Munchausens by proxy' (achieving some kind of personal benefit by presenting their children as disabled) as a defence against the impotence of professionals to provide proper safeguards and support.
Fortunately, there is a growing body of evidence and opinion that rather than blaming parents for their children's vulnerabilities, professionals should be recognising the unique contribution and expertise that parents, friends and carers provide and fully recognising and supporting them in the enormous task they often do to support their children, throughout adulthood when necessary, to maximise their safety, independence and potential for living fulfilled lives:
“there is a whole range of difficult-to-diagnose conditions in children—ADHD being one; Asperger's being another—where the symptoms are seized upon by adversarially minded social workers as a manifestation of abusive parenting.”
“Listening to the concerns of parents and taking them seriously at an early stage is fundamental to providing the right type of help for children, but very often that simply does not happen. However, worse still, we are increasingly seeing in schools and local authorities a culture of blame against parents.”
“The government is to investigate claims that increasing numbers of parents of children with Asperger's Syndrome are being falsely accused of abuse.”
"As opposed to working collaboratively with the family, many Local Authorities will go on the offensive. Any perceived challenge from parents will be a catalyst for Social Services involvement and a host of issues for them to face…”
“Mothers' attention to detail, logical thinking, and persistence, combined with a tendency to approach rather than avoid family problems, may increase the chances of parenting successes and therefore build a stronger sense of parenting efficacy.”
“The trauma caused to families is enormous, not to mention the waste of public funds. But then it is happening in some instances to avoid spending resources.”