Wed, 19 Dec 2018

We do not want to be better served by the justice system, we want a better system

AT-Autism Rough Justice conference AT-Autism’s annual conference on ‘Rough Justice? How is the justice system serving autistic people?’ was distressing for many of the autistics attending (and some had to leave because of it). Most of the presentations were about tinkering on the edges of the system: improving prisons, the Broadmoor high secure psychiatric hospital, probation services, etc. Very little was said about changing a system that discriminates and oppresses the autistic minority. It is likely that the lack of openly autistic speakers contributed to this.

Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love, whose extradition to the USA were both blocked, were mentioned several times. However Talha Ahsan who was extradited a week before Gary McKinnon’s extradition was blocked was only mentioned when I did in a question. There was no talk of intersectionality, even though autistics are not all white men!

No presentation either was about the injustice of all the innocent autistics caught in the criminal justice system. My unlawful arrest by the Metropolitan Police Service, that luckily didn’t go to court, was so traumatic that it has been life changing. It is difficult to imagine what the fellow autistics who have had to or are going through court, prison, secure hospitals, probation, etc., many of them innocent of the offence they are suspected of or charged of, have to endure. Even some autistics convicted and sentenced to a life term for murder have not committed the crime for which they have been convicted for, such as is the case for Alex Henry, thanks to the law of joint enterprise.

Kleio Cossburn, a former police officer, made a very interesting presentation in which she talked about how she found, after a traffic accident, how different things were on the other side of the desk where police officers usually sit. However not many police officers experience this, and fewer realise the trauma they often cause when arresting autistics, especially when innocent. Karen Todner, in her fascinating and harrowing presentation of several of the cases she has worked on, pointed out that when she started her 30-years career legal aid solicitor offered as good representation as private ones, and prison was a safe environment. This is no longer the case. She quoted a probation officer describing the current situation as: ‘we have gone back to the dark ages and we lock up those who are autistic because we don’t know what to do with them’. And that includes innocent, black, women, muslim, etc. autistics, not just autistic white men having committed an offence. We don’t need more autistics having a better time in the criminal justice system, we need a system in which autistics are not locked up.

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