Autism awareness training for police custody staff
Being in police custody can be a frightening place for many people, but even more so for those with autism, where the distress can be considerable. Often such suites have harsh lighting, smell strongly of cleaning agents and can be loud and noisy. For people with autism this can have a significant effect.
A new Autism Toolkit has been created by the University of Nottingham in partnership with Nottingham police and people with autism. They have created evidence-based training and information guides to help the police support autistic detainees and help detainees with autism to better understand the process.
The ‘Autism Toolkit’ is free for all police forces in the UK to use. More information about the resources can be found on the Nottingham University website. Liaison and Diversion (L&D) services may wish to promote this valuable resource to their local police colleagues and use this as an opportunity to bring awareness to this group of people and the ways L&D can help.
Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Paddy Tipping, said: “It’s important that people are treated with respect and sensitivity when they come into contact with the police. Autistic people often do not ‘look’ disabled and sometimes their responses can be misinterpreted, which can be extremely stressful for anyone affected.
“That’s why I support the work to ensure that officers are made aware of the signs of autism and receive training to help them respond appropriately. I’m proud to see Nottinghamshire is at the forefront of this work.”
Research undertaken by Dr Chloe Holloway, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Law, has shown that 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 of there.
For autistic individuals the ‘Autism Toolkit’ includes a booklet which explains what will happen in custody and information on legal rights. Pictures and diagrams are used to make it easier to understand the process.
Police and custody staff have access to an autism training guide. This has been written to help improve their understanding of the difficulties autistic people may encounter during key parts of the custody process, such as personal searches and cell detention, and what adjustments they can make to help support autistic people during these processes.
Nick Clarke is a member of the NAPP and has drawn on his personal experiences to help develop the toolkit. He was arrested for Actual Bodily Harm in 2005 and recalls police custody as like being ‘marooned’. He said: “I did not have a clue what was going on after being arrested for doing something that I did not realise was wrong.
“I struggle with too much verbal and written information. It makes my head go into a spin with all the words going into a bin. I prefer visual aids or written information using flowcharts, diagrams, or symbols.….”
Working with partner agencies: Court ushers shadowing an liaison and diversion service
The Bedfordshire and Luton liaison and diversion service, based within the East London NHS Foundation Trust, recently welcomed court ushers to shadow the team during its Magistrate and Crown Court work. The court ushers had identified a need to understand the work of the liaison and diversion service.
The liaison and diversion service strives to be creative in the way it works with others, to enable shared learning concerning respective roles and responsibilities and then to integrate this. To this end, the service often visits other stakeholder services to give an overview of what it does, as well as now offering these shadowing opportunities.
Before the court ushers could start their shadowing, the team discussed the importance of service user confidentiality, specifically in reference to any client assessments they observed and other professional discussions, etc. A full explanation was given to the service users involved, who gave their permission to be part of this process. The court ushers also signed a confidentiality agreement.
The ushers reported the shadowing opportunity to be valuable in understanding the ‘bigger picture’ and the core work of the liaison and diversion service, reducing the mystery or any misunderstanding surrounding working with people with mental health conditions and other vulnerabilities. It helped the ushers to understanding of the impact of health and social care needs upon individuals within the criminal justice system and highlighted the importance of a safe and fair criminal justice processes.
One court usher said the following:
I received a warm welcome from the [L&D] team upon my arrival and a worker explained her role to me before heading to the cells to interview a male detained on an overnight arrest…I would ask that you convey my thanks to the L&D service for their kindness and patience.
The liaison and diversion service has also greatly benefited from this shadowing process. The court ushers are more informed and responsive to ensuring the liaison and diversion service is in court when it is required. The ushers feel more confident discussing the liaison and diversion service’s role with solicitors and the greater judiciary as well as with potential service users. They also feel more confident about referring any individuals for whom they have concerns directly to the liaison and diversion team.
The liaison and diversion service plans to continue offering this shadowing opportunity to new court ushers who are wanting to learn more, as well as planning to continue developing and promoting its inter-agency work more generally.
National NHS England and Police joint ‘Voluntary Attender’ Workshop
Anyone suspected of a criminal offence who needs to be interviewed is either arrested and taken to a police custody suite or, where there is no need to arrest them, invited to attend a voluntary interview which may or may not be at a police station.
A recent change in legislation means that police are expecting a large increase in people having voluntary interviews, called ‘Voluntary Attenders.’ L&D services typically assess more people within police custody suites and courts than Voluntary Attenders but with the new changes this ratio is expected to change with potentially more suspects being seen at an earlier stage, between their first contact with the police and any subsequent interviews.
In November 2017, an event was held to understand the challenges for the Police and L&D services regarding ensuring effective management of Voluntary Attender interviews by the Police, whilst enabling effective investigations and ensuring vulnerable suspects are appropriately supported. A selection of Police, NHSE Commissioners, L&D managers and practitioners attended the event as well as the Chief Executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN).
Superintendent Hirst of the Metropolitan Police is Chair of the National Police Chief Council, National Custody Forum: Voluntary Attendance working group. He opened the event by providing an overview of the new emphasis this may place on some police procedures and what it may entail for all partner agencies.
Key themes discussed included getting the timing right for L&D intervention (i.e. should this be before or after a person’s police interview) and also careful consideration about the location of L&D assessments. It was generally felt this should be at a formal premises, such as a police station, NHS building or social care premises, rather than a private premises, unless there is good reason.
Another key theme at the event was the need for careful consideration concerning the need for Appropriate Adults and legal representation. Chris Bath, Chief Executive of NAAN, presented at the conference. He notes, “Voluntary attendance presents both opportunities and significant challenges. The same rights and safeguards apply as in custody, including the mandatory presence of an AA where a suspect meets the PACE Code C definitions. However, if rights and safeguards are to be successfully applied in practice, it is critical that front-line police officers are provided with support in identifying and working with suspects who have additional needs.”
The main outcome of the event was a unanimous agreement that every effort should be made to ensure equal treatment and support for a Voluntary Attender compared with someone arrested and interviewed in custody.
Jackie Leadbitter, Forensic Manager, Northumbria Police fed back about the conference, “… I feel the conference was extremely beneficial and we covered a lot of valuable ground that I will be sharing with colleagues in my force.”
The information gathered at the event will be used to inform the College of Policing ‘Authorised Professional Practice’ guidance on Voluntary Attendance and to inform future versions of the national L&D Operating Model. Whilst there is likely to be a series of nationally agreed principles, there is still a need for local negotiation and joint strategies concerning what model best suits each geographical area. The central team is also on hand to assist regions in developing the most appropriate strategies for them.
Update on Police policy changes
The Government made changes to sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act (1983), as enacted in the Policing and Crime Act (2017). These came into effect in December 2017. These sections relate to police powers of detention under the Mental Health Act, specifically to do with taking someone to a place of safety if they are mentally unwell. The amendments carry important implications for local NHS, policing and local authority partners, who will be working together to prepare for the impact of the changes.
This letter was sent out from NHS England and NHS Improvement to all CCGs, providers and regions informing them of the changes. L&D services should not experience any direct impact from these changes and this article is for general awareness. However, the changes do mention that before exercising a section 136 power police officers must, where practicable, consult a health professional. Such a consultation is not mandatory or the general role of L&D practitioners who should, if asked, recommend that police work with their Street Triage team or contact police healthcare for such a consultation. This does not preclude L&D assisting if it is practical and convenient to do so.
Working well in Magistrates’ Court
Providing liaison and diversion (L&D) assessments in a timely manner to support Magistrates and District Judges is one of the main objectives for any good L&D service. It helps to inform remand and sentencing decisions, helps to limit the number of court hearings required and also avoid potentially high-cost adjournments. Information provided by L&D staff will to help ensure the defendant can engage with court proceedings and that they are managed and supported appropriately through the criminal justice system.
The L&D service at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, launched in November 2016, has already made a good impression on many with its particularly strong working relationship with partners within the Magistrates’ Court where they are based.
When asked ‘What has made the launch of L&D service in Birmingham Magistrates’ Court so successful?,’ Stephen Jenkins from the Birmingham service explained this is in large part due to the initial awareness training they did with probation teams and court legal advisers prior to L&D services starting at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. They also were proactively raising awareness of how their service can improve court proceedings, especially with the Magistrates. All the L&D staff also took part in a court induction. This helped to clarify roles and expectations for all partners, enabling staff work well together, and has been essential to the smooth running of the service.
The timely sharing of information has also been key. L&D staff are provided with details of all court cases and appearances on a weekly basis. The L&D service is a direct and vital link between the courts and support services ranging from mental health, housing, benefits and addiction support. Since the launch of the service, they have already seen a significant increase in the application and delivery of mental health treatment requirements, for example.
Ravinder Rai, Senior Probation Officer working at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, explains that before the L&D service was in place often certain sentencing options were not being fully utilised as they required more mental health expertise. Now that L&D services are in place at court the right sentencing options are being reached quickly, sometimes even within one day. Having information on an individual’s needs or vulnerabilities then allows probation staff to develop plans to address these needs as part of the sentencing process.
She explains how the approach and partnership working has been incredibly successful at Birmingham because they brought the L&D service staff straight into the heart of their probation team and notes that if L&D staff are kept separate from probation teams such an effective partnership would be difficult to establish.
You can also read an interesting blog by Salma Ali, L&D practitioner, about working in a court setting supporting a defendant with learning disabilities.
New, Easy Read guide for people following arrest
A new ‘Rights and Entitlements’ booklet is now available in Easy Read. This serves as a guide to being arrested with easy to understand words and pictures throughout, and details of a person’s ‘Rights and Entitlements’ when they are arrested included within the booklet.
This was developed by Hertfordshire Constabulary and is already in use across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, having been piloted already in these areas. It has been approved by the PACE Strategy Board, Chaired by the Home Office, as well as the national Custody Forum.
The booklet will be available to order as a hard copy only through Hertfordshire Constabulary (see link below) , for a fee. There will, however, be a protected (non-printable) version accessible on the Home Office website.
We are encouraging L&D schemes to promote this booklet with their police colleagues and local forces to ensure they know about its availability and the potential benefits of presenting information in a way that is easy to understand and accessible to all.
To purchase the booklets and for more information go to the Hertfordshire Constabulary website.