Project to support autistic prisoners wins prestigious award

The project involved developing and implementing standards across the prison to improve the identification and support of autistic people at Feltham Young Offenders Institute

The recipients of the award were (left to right) : Kim Turner, Speech and Language Therapist at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust; Mo Foster, Head of Young People & Services at HMYOI Feltham; Dr Alexandra Lewis Clinical Lead/Consultant Forensic and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust; and Clare Hughes, the National Autistic Society's Criminal Justice Manager

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ Sternberg Clinical Innovation Award has been awarded to Her Majesty's Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) Feltham. The project involved developing and implementing standards across the prison to improve the identification and support of autistic people at Feltham.

The award is shared jointly between the project’s partners Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, the National Autistic Society (NAS), and HMYOI Feltham.

The on-going project made changes across the prison to help autistic young offenders, who can be among the most vulnerable of the offender population and currently represent 4.5% of the population at Feltham. These changes included familiarising staff with autism, allowing autistic prisoners to use communal areas at quieter times and making reasonable adjustments to the building, such as creating areas with less clutter. Visual stimuli were reduced by removing posters and notices.

HMYOI Feltham recently became the first prison in the world to be awarded Autism Accreditation by NAS, after working with the charity to adapt its national accreditation programme to the prison environment. The charity is now hoping to roll the programme out more widely, by working with other prisons and young offender institutions to improve autism practice and ultimately lower reoffending rates.

'We are proud to be the recipients of the 2016 Sternberg Award for Clinical Innovation,' said Dr Alexandra Lewis Clinical Lead/Consultant Forensic and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust who worked on the project. 'A project of this magnitude is only possible through the enthusiasm and coordinated hard work of many people: Staff from all departments and agencies within the prison willingly took on the challenge and invaluable contributions were also made to the project by many of the young people within the establishment.

'The project has attracted ministerial attention and more than 30 prisons have expressed an interest in gaining Autism Accreditation and supporting prisoners with autism in their own establishments. We look forward to sharing our experience and supporting them with this process.'

Clare Hughes, NAS Criminal Justice Manager, said: 'Autistic people can end up in the prison system, just like anyone else. But their experience is often more traumatic because their additional needs aren't recognised and met.

'But our work with Feltham HMYOI showed that simple adjustments can address many of these issues – such as high levels of anxiety in social situations and sometimes extreme sensitivities to light or sound. These changes can improve prison life for prisoners and staff alike.'

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