Staff dedicated to helping neurodivergent offenders are now in place in all public prisons in England and Wales.

  • Staff dedicated to helping neurodivergent offenders now in place in all public prisons
  • Prisoners with conditions such as autism to get better rehabilitation
  • Part of government’s work to reduce reoffending and cut crime

Dedicated neurodiversity officers are now in place in every public prison in England and Wales to better support offenders away from crime.

The specialist staff are tasked with making sure prisoners with neurodiverse needs are identified and can access the right education and training opportunities while in prison which are crucial to reducing reoffending.

Some neurodiverse offenders may have speech and language needs which can lead to challenging behaviour, meaning they struggle to engage with prison rules and rehabilitation programmes. Support managers will ensure other prison staff know how to avoid and de-escalate volatile situations when working with offenders that have neurodiverse conditions.

It is estimated that up to half of the adult prison population could be considered neurodivergent, covering a range of conditions and disorders such as learning disabilities and acquired brain injuries. Since April 2021, the Prison Service has identified at least 25,000 prisoners enrolled in education who have learning difficulties and disabilities. 

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, said:

As a barrister I’ve seen first-hand the struggle that offenders with conditions like autism and dyslexia can have in finding or holding down a job that would help them turn their back on crime.

These specialist staff have deployed across all of our public prisons. Not only will they help prisoners become law abiding members of society but also make our prisons safer by training officers to avoid and de-escalate outbursts

Neurodiversity support managers are also tasked with training staff to support neurodivergent prisoners through practical issues such as helping make those who struggle to read aware of the rules. They will also prepare offenders for interviews and make sure employers are aware of their neurodivergence so they have better job prospects and the best chance of staying on the straight and narrow.

As part of a drive to identify the needs of neurodiverse offenders in the criminal justice system, the Prison Service has now conducted more than 180,000 screenings since April 2021, as well as opening four specialised units to improve support. This includes HMP Pentonville where a recent inspection report noted that there were fewer incidents of violence and a reduction in assaults on the unit.

Further support for neurodivergence being introduced across the criminal justice system includes new training for magistrates and legal advisers on fair treatment for people with neurodiverse conditions when they attend court.

Pavan Dhaliwal, Chief Executive of Revolving Doors, a charity which supports offenders to break the cycle of crime, said:

We are pleased to hear that a key commitment of the Neurodiversity Action Plan has been fulfilled, and there are now Neurodiversity Support Managers in all publicly owned prisons in the country.

A disproportionate number of people in prison are neurodiverse – ensuring that they are able to access appropriate support, and that the justice system is responsive to their needs, is key to breaking the cycle of crisis and crime. We look forward to seeing the impact this will have.

Further information

  • Neurodiversity support managers are now in place in all 105 publicly owned prison and young offenders’ institutes in England and Wales.
  • The Joint Inspectorate Evidence Review in 2021 estimated that up to half of the adult prison population is neurodivergent.
  • The Cross-Government Neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System Action Plan was published in response to the review and a 12-month update was published in September 2023. Both show significant progress made against commitments to increase support for neurodivergent people encountering the criminal justice system, but this government is determined to go further.
Published 16 May 2024