University of Nottingham launches Autism Custody Toolkit

New guides and resources will assist police custody staff dealing with autistic detainees

The University of Nottingham has worked with the police service, support staff and autistic volunteers to create a toolkit to help police custody staff deal with detainees affected by autism, and other conditions that affect sensory processing and communication.

The toolkit was launched on the 10th January at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. The event was attended by NPAA representatives, and staff and volunteers involved in the project.

Dr Chloe Holloway, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Law, led the research. She said people with autism can find the custody environment so stressful that they may waive their legal rights to a lawyer or sign an admission of guilt to get out. 

Dr Chloe Holloway introducing the new police custody training video, shown at the launch event

Dr Holloway added: “My in-depth interviews with autistic people who had been taken into police custody found they were confused about what was happening to them during their arrest due to difficulties with communication and a lack of accessible information.

“The conditions of the custody suite – bright lights and loud noise – also made them very anxious. 

“The materials developed for the toolkit are based on my findings and they have been designed to meet the priorities of both staff and those in detention.”

A new training video for police custody staff, featuring autistic actors, was shown at the launch. The video and toolkit will be made available to police forces across the UK.

As part of the project, cells designed for autistic prisoners will be built at a new £17 million police custody suite in Radford Road, Nottingham – the first of its kind in the country. The new facility is due to open by Christmas 2020.

The NPAA would like to thank Dr Holloway, The University of Nottingham and the Nottingham Autism Police Partnership for including us in this project. ∎