Policy Gaps and Opportunities: A Systematic Review of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Criminal Justice Intersections

Dylan Cooper, Disha Uppal, Kirsten Railey, Amy Blank Wilson, Katie Maras, Emily Zimmerman, Juan Bornman, Lindsay Shea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Autism spectrum disorder prevalence is rising, and as this population enters adulthood, preliminary research has identified high rates of contact with the criminal justice system. Policy and programmatic reform are crucial given reported negative and violent outcomes for autistic individuals when encountering the criminal justice system. Given the size and scope of the entire criminal justice system, identifying priorities and opportunities for change is critical, and must be rooted in evidence-based findings to maximize impact and scalability. This article provides a systematic review of the literature on autism spectrum disorder and criminal justice system intersections, analyzed through a convergent qualitative synthesis. As the extant literature is diverse and employs a variety of study methods, this review allows for an analysis across study types. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis structure was utilized and captured 89 total articles from six databases. Studies are grouped by the Sequential Intercept Model, which offers a framework for analyzing criminal justice system dimensions, and informs where research at the intersection of autism spectrum disorder and the criminal justice system is most prevalent. Themes were identified at each intercept and described through key study findings to articulate implications and guidance for policy, practice, and future research to promote equitable justice for autistic individuals. Lay abstract: The number of people with autism spectrum disorder has increased, and as this population ages, research is showing high rates of contact with the criminal justice system among this group. Social and communication differences that autistic individuals experience can act as a risk factor during these interactions, as shown by public reports of negative and violent encounters between autistic individuals and the law enforcement. There is a clear need for evidence-based strategies to reduce high rates of contact and to improve outcomes when an interaction occurs. This article provides a systematic review of research on autism spectrum disorder and criminal justice system to compile this evidence base. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis structure was used to identify 89 articles after searching six databases. The Sequential Intercept Model describes the criminal justice system as different stages, or intercepts, that are connected, and the Sequential Intercept Model serves as an overall framework to organize the included articles. Articles were analyzed to identify research themes at each intercept, which offer guidance for policy and program changes that support equitable justice for autistic individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1031
JournalAutism
Volume26
Issue number5
Early online date24 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2022

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