April 14, 2023

Navigating Neurodivergence in Prison with the Aid of Technology

5-min read

Neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism, ADHD, or other cognitive differences, may face unique obstacles in navigating prison’s social and environmental demands. They may struggle with sensory overload, difficulty processing social cues, and challenges with impulse control. In addition, they may experience a lack of understanding and accommodations from prison staff.

It is essential to explore and understand how neurodivergent prisoners cope with the challenges of prison life and how they can be supported. Navigating prison life as a neurodivergent prisoner requires a combination of self-advocacy, routine, and social support. Reports show that just 28% of officers in police and probation services, and 24% of those working in prisons, have received training about neurodiversity.

Image of a hand drawing a line maze in red marker on paper surrounded by crumpled up paper. Relating to neurodivergent blog.

Overcoming Challenges for Neurodivergent Prisoners

Handling the routine of prison life can be challenging for a neurodivergent prisoner. The prisoners may benefit from creating a schedule that includes regular activities, such as exercise and self-care, and structured rest time. Technological solutions can assist with the needs of a neurodivergent experiencing life in prison. They provide the ability to take control of their day-to-day life with a digital calendar application to allow the prisoner to take responsibility and organise a suitable personal routine. Many neurodivergent individuals may struggle with anxiety, and having a set schedule can help reduce stress by providing a sense of structure and predictability. Knowing what to expect can help reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

Building positive relationships with staff members can also provide a support system and address any misunderstandings or conflicts. Neurodivergent prisoners may struggle with communication. Therefore, communication between prison staff and prisoners must be clear and direct. Digital communications can assist with building communication and reducing the anxiety of speaking face-to-face. Technology solutions designed with familiarisation that offer communication platforms where prisoners can communicate over text or voice call to the prison officer can overcome these challenges.

Overcoming Challenges for Supporting Staff

Opportunities for online training are available to staff in the criminal justice industry. Staff can feel confident with handling neurodiverse prisoners and probationers in an appropriate manner best suited to their needs. The option of digital learning gives more flexibility to learn ‘on the job.’
Studies show that repeat offending could be reduced with better training around neurodivergent conditions. One study reported only 50% of participants understood the term ‘neurodiversity’, and 76% had not received any neurodiversity training.

“I have lived experience to offer support, but the amount of clinical support available is very limited in the prison environment. I am in the process of receiving support for Neurodiversity, so I feel that upon completion, I will be better equipped in the support I can offer”.

A criminal justice professional, Another Sign: The Brain Charity Report, 2022
Animated image of two people on a video call. One receiving online training and one conducting the lesson. Relating to neurodivergent blog.

Depending on the prisoner’s needs, they may require specific accommodations to help them function in the prison environment. This could include providing access to sensory tools, creating quiet spaces for the prisoner, or modifying certain aspects of the prison environment to reduce sensory overload. Neurodivergent prisoners may benefit from connecting with others who share similar experiences and interests, and this can provide a sense of belonging and social support.

Currently, rehabilitative support for neurodivergent prisoners is minimal. There are only a small number of offending behaviour programmes tailored or adapted for neurodivergent prisons. One size doesn’t fit all. Those with poor concentration or attention span may need information broken down into bitesize segments. In contrast, those with poor memory may require written reminders of verbal instructions. Technological solutions such as notification reminders and word processors can help to overcome this difficulty. Officers can send documents to the prisoner via a secure tablet so that the prisoner can access their documents 24/7. This means that they can take their time absorbing any required information.

Animated image of a silhouette head with knotted string where the brain should be. Another person is outside pulling on the string trying to unravel it. Relating to neurodivergent blog.

Overall, the advance in technology and online learning support neurodivergent prisoners and the staff working with them. Creating a mutual understanding and catering for neurodivergent needs could help reduce the rate of recidivism and aid positive rehabilitative journeys.

SEE RELATED: Online Learning in Prison: Breaking Barriers and Building Futures

SEE PREVIOUS BLOG: Core Systems met with the Secretary of State