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Neurodiversity in the criminal justice system: helping prisoners with neurological conditions get extra support

Neurodivergent people are more likely to be in prison and more likely to reoffend, research suggests

The Brain Charity is calling on people who have been involved in the criminal justice system to share their views – to help prisoners with neurological conditions get extra support.

We are working with the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership on new research to help neurodiversity be taken into account when working with prisoners.

Neurodivergent people more likely to be in prison and more likely to reoffend

Studies have shown UK prison populations are disproportionately made up of people who have neurological conditions including brain injury, ADHD, autism and learning disabilities, revealing the need for greater awareness and understanding of neurodiversity within the system.

The Disabilities Trust Foundation’s research estimates nearly half of all male prisoners (47%) have a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Over the last decade or more, a number of studies have reported that people with neurological conditions are more likely to end up in prison and get trapped in a cycle of reoffending.

Barriers for prisoners with neurological conditions

They are more likely to face barriers during their experience, such as understanding information given, receiving a diagnosis and getting support and treatment for health needs.

Nanette Mellor, CEO of The Brain Charity, said: “At the moment, there is not enough specialist support for people with neurological conditions within the criminal justice system – despite their numbers among the prisoner population being disproportionately higher than the national average.

“Treatment and support to stop individuals reoffending should be tailored to neurological condition – a prisoner with a brain injury should be treated differently to someone who has experienced trauma.”

Low levels of awareness of neurodiversity

User Voice, a charity run by people with lived experience of the criminal justice system, interviewed 118 prisoners with neurological conditions for their 2021 report “Neuro… What?” Neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System.

Filling in questionnaire on neurodiversity in the criminal justice system

Most had never heard of the term neurodiversity, were never screened for neurological conditions and had never been offered any adjustments to support their neurological needs.

The Brain Charity’s Another Sign project will aim to inform and make recommendations about how to meet the needs of people with a neurological condition throughout the criminal justice process.

This includes dealing with the police, at the point of arrest, going to court, during prison stays and through the probation service.

Nanette added: “We hope our Another Sign project will help change the system, by encouraging professionals to listen and look closer for the signs of neurodivergence.

“We want to ensure neurodiversity is recognised, and support identified, as early as possible – while equipping staff with the tools and support they need to bring about positive change and rehabilitation.

“We are really excited to be able to better support prisoners with neurological conditions and their needs.”

Have you been involved in the criminal justice system? Share your views anonymously

Do you have a neurological condition and have lived experience within the criminal justice system?

Please click here to complete our anonymous survey – it only takes two minutes but will make a real difference.

If you would like to share your involvement with the criminal justice system in another way or be part of the Another Sign project’s focus groups, please get in touch by emailing

Categories: Neurodiversity, News

Published: 14 March 2022