Autistic people in contact with the police: Understanding identification, prevalence, characteristics and journeys into and out of police services

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Kent

In Collaboration With

Kent Police Headquarters

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

May 2020

Research Context

​In the UK, while most autistic people lead law-abiding lives, some can, and do come into contact with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). The majority of our knowledge about autistic people in the CJS stems from prison- and/or hospital-based studies. We know very little about autistic people who come into contact with the police, in terms of identification, characteristics, and their journeys through the earlier stages of the CJS. Yet, autistic people are thought to be more likely to come into contact with the police compared to those who are not autistic, though exact numbers are unknown due to an absence of formal diagnostic procedures in place for identifying autism in individuals within the earlier stages of the CJS. As their first point of contact, it is vital police staff are able to accurately identify an individual as autistic in order to make appropriate and informed decisions about the support needed and their subsequent journey through the CJS.

Thus, in a mixed-methods pilot study designed in collaboration with Kent Police Headquarters we aim to:

  1. Understand how people are currently identified as autistic by police services in England; 

  2. Gain initial insight into the prevalence, characteristics, and journeys through police services of autistic individuals based on the current data recorded; and 

  3. Garner the views of police service professionals on the current regulations, processes, information recording, and support services in place for autistic people who come into contact with the police.

Research Methodology

​Two-part mixed methods study.

Date due for completion

July 2022
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