Working as a learning disability nurse my experience and knowledge has largely focused on supporting people with learning disabilities and associated mental disorders, particularly those who encounter the criminal justice system or are at risk of offending. A large proportion of this population is also autistic and, therefore, has additional communication and social needs.
There has been an acknowledgment for many years that this vulnerable group is over-represented across the criminal justice system, and appropriate identification and support is significantly lacking (Prison Reform Trust, 2008; The Bradley Report, 2009).
If a learning disability or autism is not identified at the point of arrest, it can be missed at every point through the criminal justice journey. At worst, missing early identification can result in wrongful conviction, and it has been found that people in this category are over-represented in miscarriages of justice.
A review of neurodiversity—including learning disabilities and autism—in the criminal justice system, put forward by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate in 2021, attributes the lack of support and identification to a need for training and awareness raising. Supported by a grant from the Burdett Trust for Nursing, the SOLDA app aims to meet this need. It’s a free tool designed to raise awareness of the needs of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in contact with the criminal justice system and provide resources for professionals working with this population.
Developing the app
Our intention was to produce accessible guidance and resources to assist people working in the criminal justice system and health services, to provide appropriate and effective support for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.
Daron, Danny and Kim, who represent the Working for Justice group, generously provided accounts of their lived experiences. We also gathered a working group of professionals to provide guidance from those with contemporary experience across a range of professions. Each professional provided a recording of their professional role to enable identification of some of the many roles across the criminal justice system, with a view to enable signposting to relevant services for appropriate advice and support.
Finally, we brought together a bank of resources to assist in the support of people with learning disabilities and/or autism, as well as information and signposting to organisations that can offer additional support.
Passion and generosity
The passion of professionals working with those with learning disabilities and/or autism across the criminal justice system and health services has been very clear throughout this project. It has been heartening to find that those who are able to offer support, do so with incredible generosity and the sincere wish to improve the lives of those who they support. I hope that the SOLDA app goes some way towards improving the experiences of people with learning disabilities and autism.
The SOLDA app is free to access at solda.co.uk