In 2022, the Universities of Bath and Nottingham undertook a research project with Avon & Somerset Police to identify ways to reduce the challenges that autistic detainees face when in police custody. This included making physical changes to the custody environment and providing training to staff.
As part of the project, all Custody and Detention Officers within Avon & Somerset Police, over a period of several weeks, received a 1-day training course. Also attending were some volunteers from the organisation used locally to provide ‘Appropriate Adult’ services for detainees deemed as ‘vulnerable’ under the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In total 93 people undertook the training.
The training was provided by Creased Puddle (www.creasedpuddle.co.uk) a company specialising in Neurodiversity whose trainers are all either neurodivergent or have teen or adult children with neurodevelopmental conditions; and in some cases, both. They provide bespoke ‘role specific training’ rather than generic awareness products and have a proven specialism in training in the Criminal Justice Sector due to four of the trainers being former police officers. The trainer used in this case had previous experience as a Custody Officer to ensure that the content could be contextualised to the legislation, rules and process constraints which the custody staff are required to comply with.
Whilst the primary focus of the day was on autism, the following neurodevelopmental conditions were also included due to the research backed findings that co-occurrence of neurodevelopmental conditions is common. The other conditions covered being:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD & ADD)
- Tourette’s Syndrome
Prior to each training session, attendees completed a questionnaire about their level of knowledge on the subject. This questionnaire was then repeated immediately after the session. A follow up questionnaire was then sent by the researchers to the attendees 6 months after the training to identify what if any impact it had had in the workplace.
The full academic research paper is being prepared and will be published later this year. However, analysis of the training is now complete and here is a brief summary of the findings(Source: Bagnall & Maras (in prep)):
- Almost half of the professionals had no personal experience of neurodiversity prior to the training.
- 81.31% reported encountering neurodivergent detainees/suspects on a daily or weekly basis in their role.
- Self-reported knowledge of neurodiversity as well as confidence working with neurodivergent suspects significantly increased post-training.
- At six-month follow-up, professionals reported that the training had influenced their professional practice.
- The vast majority of professionals viewed the training as highly useful and would recommend the training to others.
Here are some quotes from the professionals:
When asked what aspect of the training had been beneficial:
“Course is beneficial in every aspect.”
“All of it – I’d never given it much thought but realise with minimal effort on my part I can make life easier for myself, colleagues and detainees.”
“Really good training and would benefit all front-line officers. As it may actually reduce the number of people coming into custody”
As a result of the project Avon & Somerset Police received an award in May 2023 from the Business Disability Forum.
Quote from Avon & Somerset Police LinkedIn post:
“Early results have shown that since the start of the project the statistics of officers being assaulted within custody have reduced significantly. Self-harm rates have reduced for detainees, and the environment is more calming for all. The next step is to share the learning to hopefully create national change”.