Autism Hampshire's criminal justice projects

Karen Templeton-Mepstead, Community Access Services Manager, describes how Autism Hampshire worked with the Hampshire Constabulary to develop the Autism Alert Programme and raise awareness of autism with the Police. 

Download a PDF version of this article

Author: Karen Templeton-Meptstead

The Autism Alert Programme 

In 2008 after undertaking research into the number of people with autism who encountered problems whilst in contact with the Police and Emergency Services we commenced an 8 year programme which rolled out the following 3 elements:

  • The Autism Card in 2008 in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioners. The Card can identify people with autism when shown.
  • The Car Sticker in 2009 in partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and South Central Ambulance Service. The Car Sticker is placed on the left hand side inside the car window. It is blank on outside but looks similar to the Card and identifies to emergency services that someone in the car may have autism.
  • The Autism App in 2011 in partnership with Crimson Tide. The App has the Card feature as it main screen but also has individual strategies to support the specific person who has the app on their phone, including a traffic light emotion highlighter for the individual with supporting strategies.


All three elements are joined together to become ‘The Autism Alert Programme’.  This article focuses on the work we have done with the Hampshire Constabulary.

Funding for this programme was allocated from Autism Hampshire, Hampshire Police and The Office of Police and Crime Commissioners. The programme won the iESE (Improvement and Efficiency Social Enterprise) Police Project of the Year award in 2011. 

Given the importance of the programme, Autism Hampshire has worked with the Constabulary to look at how best to support not only the person with autism, but the police officers themselves. In this respect the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner gave their support for all 6,000 frontline personnel to attend autism awareness sessions. To date, 3,000 officers have received input with plans to undertake sessions with the remaining officers.

During the awareness sessions Autism Hampshire received disclosures from police officers who had autism. Autism Hampshire discussed their findings with the Constabulary and started to work with their Human Resource Team to support internally as well as externally. This partnership has developed a support group for staff within the Constabulary who either had autism or had a family member with autism to help support and inform. 

To complement this, the Constabulary have also developed an Autism Working Group to support staff with autism to have a voice. Their Human Resources Department have since written the first employers policy for autism

Easy Read Custody Sheets

In 2013-2014 Autism Hampshire in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary, Widget (a commercial educational company) and The Appropriate Adults Service (TASS) undertook a further project to support both people in custody and the officers engaged with them. The biggest hurdle as with all projects was securing funding, as Criminal Justice projects are not perhaps as high profile as some other projects which have greater appeal, however, the partnership felt that it was an important project and allocated the much needed funding.

Once initially developed, the partnership commissioned Southampton University to undertake research on the Easy Read Custody Sheets piloted. Hampshire Constabulary thereafter introduced these and are now in the process of adopting them as part of their procedures.

Outcomes achieved to date for both programmes

  • There has been positive feedback from professionals and people on the spectrum on both projects with the Easy Read Custody Sheets supported by University of Southampton research
  • The Constabulary have now adopted the Easy Read Custody Sheets as part of their process to support individuals and staff alike
  • The Autism Alert Card and Sticker are recognised by all officers within Hampshire Constabulary 
  • People in custody process have felt supported and informed with a greater understanding of what is happening during their process
  • We understand there is interest from other Constabularies nationally in the projects and a number have or are in the process of developing the Autism Alert Programme
  • Police knowledge on autism has been raised enabling support both internally and externally resulting in better outcomes

 Future developments planned

Currently, with our partners, we are actively campaigning to have both projects adopted nationally by the Association of Chief Police Officers and Police College with the support of Hampshire Constabulary.

There is consideration being given to the App being adopted nationally and we are also working with Hampshire Constabulary to look at how we can support Officers within the force to access promotion boards by supporting the promotion process to be fair for all.

Date added: 15 March 2016


Sun, 10/04/2016 - 08:38

In the past my son suffered because of people’s lack of knowledge about autism, but over the years there have been tremendous improvements, but it seems not for some. My autistic son (who is also asthmatic, suffers from insulin-diabetes and has learning difficulties) is an innocent – a gentle, sensitive, kind person who is extremely young for his age. He could not speak or attend school until he was about 9 or 10 years old. Because of his disability he is unable to tell a lie. He has an obsession with steam trains and vintage buses, and used to spend his spare time and money travelling on trains and buses.  Twice he had his wallet stolen whilst travelling, but I always felt I must let him roam as one day he will not have me and he will have to fend for himself.  Obviously a person with learning difficulties is very vulnerable. The first time his train ticket was in the wallet and he was left crying on the station platform at Bristol, but, fortunately, although he is a full-grown man, he was so well-known to the railway staff (as a rail enthusiast) that the guards put him on the train home to Cardiff and saw he was all right. On the 14th July 1994 he travelled in the morning from Cardiff to Gloucester and was waiting at a bus stop there, with his bag of timetables slung over his shoulder.  He put his hand in his jeans pocket and scratched an itchy pimple in his groin.  He was arrested by two young policemen for breach of the peace – masturbating near a school!  There was a school near the bus stop, but no children – was it an over-reaction to the WEST case?  Also he had his back to the school. The police made lewd suggestions to him as to what were supposed to be his thoughts, which further upset him. The shocking part was that when he did not know what was going on and was thrown into a police van, the policemen laughed at him, ridiculed and humiliated him because he was frightened and started to cry.  They obviously thought it was all rather funny. When, subsequently, I took him to a Cardiff solicitor, he explained that when a person was ‘a bit out of the ordinary’ the police looked upon him as a ‘weirdo’, and that for us to complain would probably cause my son further distress as it would be the word of a man with learning difficulties and a slight speech defect against the 2 policemen concerned.  (He hinted that a complaint might lead them to ‘cook up’ further charges).  To my horror I realised that he was right.  He told us to wait, as he believed the charge would come to nothing – and he was correct.  Eventually we received notification that the charge was dropped, but the anxiety it caused us cannot be described.  For weeks we were both on tranquillizers.  The police grilled my son quite a time before contacting a social worker and a solicitor.  I was notified eventually but do not have a car.  I was bemused and felt so helpless as I did not know what was going on.  On the ‘phone I told my son to try not to worry and to come home as soon as possible, not realising they were going to keep him locked up so long.  They kept him all day and at a late stage indicated they were going to keep him locked up overnight, which would have broken him completely.  I would have had to catch a train to join him and to take him his inhalers and medication. Fortunately, some sense prevailed at last and at the end of the day the Gloucester social worker put him on the train home.  He arrived home shaking and crying and said, ‘Mum, I thought they would keep me locked up and I would never see you again!’ and ‘I thought you wouldn’t love me any more!’ When we went to our GP later he gave us tranquillisers and examined Howard’s thigh where he saw the now healing large inflamed pimple in his groin.  

I thought I could never forgive the police concerned.  As my son was so vulnerable I used to tell him that if there was any problem to go straight to a policeman or a police station.  At the time what could I tell him after that incident?  The last person he would go to would be a policeman! I thought pity they could not act so admirably towards my son as did the railwaymen. The Cardiff solicitor was very kind and did not send us a bill.  The Gloucester solicitor and social worker were also very kind, in fact that solicitor (a young lady) on the ‘phone told me that despite Howard’s obvious disabilities and distress he gave a good account of himself and it was clear he was innocent.  Since the 1990’s I know that police training has included information about those within the Autism Spectrum so the situation has improved?

Mon, 11/04/2016 - 16:18

Dear Barbara

I'm very sorry to hear about the experience you and your son had with the criminal justice system. We aim to improve awareness and understanding of autism amongst professionals, and to share good practice and knowledge to prevent these kinds of incidents occuring. The following articles are some that we commissioned specifically on autism and the criminal justice system. 

Top 5 tips for autism professionals: police

Autism: the basics for police and security officers

Police interviewing of witnesses and defendants with autism: What is best practice?

Support for autistic people in the criminal justice system

Kind regards,



Sun, 07/08/2016 - 12:40

The National Police Autism Association was launched in October 2015 to provide national support for police officers, staff and volunteers with a personal, family or professional interest in autism and other hidden conditions. We also aim to promote and share the good work being done around autism awareness by Hampshire Constabulary and other police forces.

The NPAA is hosted by Thames Valley Police, and run by a team of police officers and police staff across the UK.

More information on our website: