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Prison Achieves Highest Autism Accreditation Accolade

HMP PARC HAS become the first prison to achieve an Advanced Autism Accreditation...

The category B men’s prison and young offender institution in Bridgend, south Wales, has been recognised by the National Autism Society (NAS) as a ‘beacon of autism best practice’.

Since establishing a dedicated unit for autistic people, people with learning disabilities or significant brain injuries, the prison has seen a significant reduction in violence, self-­harm, rule breaking, and substance misuse.

Parc takes a person-­centred approach which sees offenders assessed during induction to identify any additional needs.

The prison then makes some simple changes to support neuro-divergent people, including: providing a sensory room, offering eye masks and ear plugs, painting wings and landings different colours, allowing people to collect food or medication at the start or end of queues,

and putting up signs reminding visitors not to slam doors.

“What Parc has managed to achieve is fantastic,” said Christine Flintoff­Smith, NAS Head of Autism Accreditation.

“The whole prison approach has been really good and required a high level of interdepartmental cohesion.

“Parc has set the bar high as a beacon of autism best practice for other prisons. It goes far above and beyond what is considered best practice and is a really positive sign for the criminal justice system as a whole.

“We understand how difficult it is for prisons to even achieve initial accreditation. Parc has invested time, resources and challenged archaic prison attitudes to implement some major developments that give offenders the best chance.

“Other prisons should look to follow the innovative work taking place at HMP Parc. The same support should be available to every autistic person in custody.”

Arianwen Selway, Parc’s Learning Disability Nurse, explained that many people go through the justice system without knowing they are autistic or have an additional learning need.

“If these aren’t identified and supported, it can have a significant impact on physical and psychological well­being as well as their ability to complete their sentence and reintegrate into society,” said Arianwen.

“Prison can be an overwhelming environment and the bright lights, noise and unfamiliar faces are disorientating for some of those in our care.

“We have men who can’t tell the time, get confused by which landing they are on because everywhere looks the same and they can struggle to comply with complex prison rules and processes which can lead to confrontations and incidents with staff and other offenders – so it’s paramount that reasonable adjustments are made.”

In July 2021 a report, commissioned by the then Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland MP, called for more coordinated and effective support for neuro-divergent people, including autistic people.

The review found better assessment, treatment and support in prisons could help break the cycle of crime and the National Autistic Society urged the Government to accept the report’s recommendations in full.

“The team have risen to the challenge in creating a specialist unit to support those in need, and have worked tirelessly to deliver high quality support services,” said Ian Coles, deputy director of the G4S­managed prison.

“The National Autistic Society has highlighted the excellent and creative work carried out by staff to deliver person-­centred support and it is fantastic that their hard work has been recognised.”

The Autism Accreditation Programme is UK’s only autism specific quality assurance programme of support and development for all those providing services to autistic people. Achieving accreditation proves that an organisation is committed to understanding autism and setting the standard for autism practice.

In 2015, HMP Feltham was the first prison in the UK to go through the accreditation programme after working with the NAS charity to develop standards. HMP Parc, HMP Wakefield, HMP Whatton and the National Probation Service in Lancashire followed in 2018­19, and Parc has now become the first to achieve advanced accreditation.

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