Prisons hide undiagnosed learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders

    Scottish prison officials believe a large proportion of
    prisoners in secure units have undiagnosed learning disabilities
    and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), writes Haroon
    Ashraf
    .
     
    A survey carried out by the Scottish Development Centre for Mental
    Health also found that national policies for the care of these
    people were not consistently applied.

    “The combination of complex individual needs and the lack
    of clear service responsibility and policy focus may further
    increase the risk of social exclusion for this vulnerable group of
    people,” said the survey, commissioned by the Scottish
    Executive.

    “This is the first time such a comprehensive study has
    been undertaken and the findings provide vital information”,
    said National Austistic Society in Scotland spokeswoman Shabnum
    Mustapha.

    The survey examined anonymous data on 49 people with learning
    problems, including Asperger’s syndrome, and ASDs sampled
    from Scotland’s state hospital, 16 prisons, six secure
    accommodation units for children, and 24 specialist in-patient
    units for people with mental health problems.

    The study only found a small number of people with learning
    problems and ASD but said that prison authorities believed a larger
    number had not been identified and assessed.

    It found a significant number of these people were high risk
    offenders but were also vulnerable to exploitation, bullying or
    abuse from other residents.

    Prison staff and managers felt that people with learning
    disabilities and/or ASD “did not fit in easily with the core
    business of the secure settings”.

    In particular the respondents felt that women with mental health
    problems had needs beyond those which mainstream secure units could
    provide.

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