Autism and The Criminal Justice System

People with autism may become involved in the Criminal Justice System as Victims or Witnesses or Offenders. They will usually need help with understanding what is happening to them when being dealt with by the police.

Once the Police believe an individual is vulnerable, they should consider what reasonable adjustments should be made.

The Police are required to engage the services of an appropriate adult at the police station as an important safeguard, providing independent support to detainees who they believe are:

  •  aged under 17,
  •  mentally disordered or vulnerable

The role of the appropriate adult is to assist the detainee to ensure that they understand the procedures at the police station and also during the interview and investigative stages.

Autism Sussex works with Sussex Police by providing a Community Placement Programme. Trainees and serving Officers are placed and work alongside our own care and support staff in various residential homes and supported living schemes. This gives such Officers a unique experience in understanding autism and how it impacts of the daily lives of our service-users.

Autism Sussex has been promoting the need for Autism-Awareness Training and has spoken at and delivered seminars recently on the subject of autism within the CJS. Autism Sussex is currently delivering targeted autism-awareness training to selected officers.

Pegasus Card

This card is promoted and delivered by Sussex Police. Anyone who has a disability that makes it hard to communicate can register for a Pegasus card.

Pegasus CardWhen produced, the card and/or unique PIN number will inform any Officer that this individual needs additional help. The nature of the person’s communication problem, i.e. autism, can be obtained via a police radio call giving access to a secure database. The Officer is given relevant information that may enable reasonable adjustments be made at all stages of the investigation. This may well impact at an early stage on the eventual outcome.Pegasus Pin Number

The database also holds contact details of two people, who know that person well, e.g. family members or carers. These contacts can act as an “appropriate adult” if not directly involved in the investigation. In the case of an individual with autism, people who know them well are likely to offer the best support.



You can apply for a Pegasus Card at Sussex Police


Other useful information on Autism and the criminal justice system


Autism – a Guide for Criminal Justice Professionals

The National Autisitic Society

Toolkit 3 – Planning to Question someone with an ASD including Asperger’s syndrome

The Advocates Gateway