The Neurodivergence in Criminal Justice Network (NICJN) is a newly established group of researchers, practitioners and community members interested in the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals drawn into the criminal justice system of England and Wales.
‘Neurodivergence’ commonly describes cognitive development which varies from the typical, related primarily to learning, attention, sensory processing, and mood regulation. Neurodivergent conditions include autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia among numerous others.
Individuals drawn into the criminal justice system (CJS) – as suspects, defendants, victims or witnesses – generally face significant challenges due to the stressful, complex and specialised nature of criminal proceedings. This is acute for vulnerable persons, including those with physical and mental health issues.
Due to the nature of neurodivergent conditions and the manner in which the CJS operates, engagement can be particularly challenging for neurodivergent individuals, with evidence suggesting that significant barriers to a positive and effective experience remain at all stages, including in policing, courts and prisons.
Scope of NICJN
The NICJN brings together key voices in relation to neurodivergence (as described above) and the CJS (covering the processes of policing, courts, prisons, and probations) in England and Wales:
- researchers (from varied disciplines including forensic science, psychology, and law)
- clinical, legal (e.g. police, lawyers, judiciary) and other relevant practitioners
- community members who are neurodivergent or have a personal connection to neurodivergent individuals with ‘lived experience’ of the CJS.
Purpose and aims
The primary purposes of the NICJN are as follows:
- exchange: aid dialogue and knowledge exchange between the different but related communities above; provide a platform for these communities to share their work, interests, activities and voice
- connect: act as a ‘switchboard’ connecting the different communities/individuals; act as a ‘hub’ for knowledge and expertise, promoting access to literature, information, and specialist knowledge.
The broad, long-term aims of the NICJN are to:
- embed research into practice: by enabling research, knowledge and lived experience to better penetrate criminal justice practice
- raise awareness: by providing access to different communities’ knowledge and experience, therefore more widely raising awareness and understanding
- promote reform: by pursuing positive changes through both exchange between the members of the network, and with relevant external groups (e.g. policymakers, parliamentarians, charities)
- advancing knowledge: through collaborative publication, presentation, evidence-gathering and bids for funding.
The NICJN currently has more than 140 members from academic, clinical practice, the legal profession and the neurodivergent community. The membership directory below lists members who have consented to have some of their details made publicly available, with the aim of helping interested parties identify expertise in different areas of neurodivergence and criminal justice.
- Dr Tom Smith, Associate Professor in Law, UWE Bristol
- Dr Nicole Renehan, ESRC Research Fellow, Durham University
NICJN Resource Collection
The NICJN Resource Collection aims to provide an accessible, 'one-stop shop' for identifying a variety of literature, reports, accounts, toolkits and other resources related to neurodivergence and criminal justice. The goal is for the collection to enable anyone to easily locate useful information and insight on this subject.
The collection is divided into sections for ease of use - it is, however, recognised that the distinctions are, to an extent, artificial; there is often overlap between issues for different neurodivergent conditions at different points of the criminal justice process. It is also important to note that the collection is a work in progress - both in terms of the resources listed and the sections included.
If you think there are resources or sections which should be added to the collection, please email the network (NICJN@uwe.ac.uk).
NICJN Launch Event
The launch of NICJN on 27 July 2021 was themed around Autism in Criminal Justice. It included presentations by a range of experts of autism and policing, courts, and prisons; the accounts of individuals with lived experience; and the scope and aims of the network were discussed.
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