Prisons are being encouraged to follow Feltham’s lead in improving support for autistic offenders.
The call came from prisons minister Andrew Selous at the Feltham Young Offenders Institute (FYOI) , on Thursday (February 25), after it became the first to be awarded with an autism accreditation.
The recognition follows two years of working closely on an offenders programme with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to better provide for autistic offenders, who represent some of the most vulnerable people in the prison system.
Mr Selous, said: “I am pleased and proud to be congratulating HM YOI Feltham on their accreditation.
“Staff have worked hard to achieve this award which recognises their enthusiasm and dedication to supporting the individuals in their charge.
“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.”
According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) around 4.5% of inmates suffer from autism at the prison in Bedfont Road.
Feltham first contacted the NAS in May 2014 looking for guidance to tackle issues faced by autistic prisoners.
Together they developed the existing autism scheme by setting specialist standards across education, healthcare and the prison itself.
The accreditation aims at improving 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 simple changes made a big difference, for instance 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.
Mo Foster, head of young people & services at FYOI, 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.
“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 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.”
NAS is hoping to roll out the scheme more widely and work with other prisons and young offender institutions to improve their autism practice.
Almost 30 prisons are interested in becoming accredited.
Clare Hughes, criminal justice manager for Autism Accreditation at NAS, added: “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.”