The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ Sternberg Clinical Innovation Award has been awarded to Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) Feltham.
The award is shared jointly between the project’s partners Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, the National Autistic Society (NAS), and HMYOI Feltham. The project  involved developing and implementing standards across the prison to improve the identification and support of autistic people at Feltham.
The on-going project made changes across the prison to help autistic young offenders, who can be among the most vulnerable of the offender population. These changes included familiarising staff with autism, allowing autistic prisoners to use communal areas at quieter times and making reasonable adjustments to the building, such as creating areas with less clutter. Visual stimuli was reduced by removing posters and notices.
Autistic people can end up in the prison system, just like anyone else. Although the exact number of autistic people in UK prisons isn’t known, they currently represent 4.5% of the population at Feltham.
HMYOI Feltham recently became the first prison in the world to be awarded Autism Accreditation by the National Autistic Society, after working with the charity to adapt its national accreditation programme to the prison environment. The charity is now hoping to roll the programme out more widely, by working with other prisons and young offender institutions to improve autism practice and ultimately lower reoffending rates.
Dr Alexandra Lewis Clinical Lead/Consultant Forensic and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust who worked on the project, said:
“We are proud to be the recipients of the 2016 Sternberg Award for Clinical Innovation. The award recognises the success achieved in improving the identification and management of prisoners with autism at HMYOI Feltham.
“A project of this magnitude is only possible through the enthusiasm and coordinated hard work of many people: staff from all departments and agencies within the prison willingly took on the challenge and invaluable contributions were also made to the project by many of the young people within the establishment. We would like to pay tribute to their commitment and hard work.
“The project has attracted ministerial attention and over 30 prisons have expressed an interest in gaining Autism Accreditation and supporting prisoners with autism in their own establishments. We look forward to sharing our experience and supporting them with this process.”
Mo Foster, Head of Young People & Services, HMYOI Feltham, said:
“I am so proud to have been part of this incredible project and I am thrilled to know that the work we did has been recognised in this way.
“Achieving Autism Accreditation was a national, and international, first for a prison and has gone on to be a catalyst for change across the Prison Service. Throughout the project and work to achieve accreditation, I was overwhelmed by how much support staff from all areas of the Prison were prepared to give to ensure we were successful in obtaining our accreditation.
“The Sternberg award for clinical innovation is something that we are all proud of, personally and professionally, but has also gone some way to demonstrate how highly our achievement has been viewed by professionals working in a similar field. We hope this positive work will inspire others to improve services in their own work area and to provide the best possible support to those who need it.”
Clare Hughes, the National Autistic Society’s Criminal Justice Manager, said:
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of such an innovative project and delighted our success has been recognised by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
“This award is testament to the hard work and dedication everyone at HMYOI Feltham put into helping us to develop our Autism Accreditation programme for prisons and young offender institutions.
“Autistic people can end up in the prison system, just like anyone else. But their experience is often more traumatic because their additional needs aren’t recognised and met. But our work with Feltham HMYOI showed that simple adjustments, like familiarising staff with autism or allowing autistic prisoners to use communal areas at quieter times, can address many of these issues – such as high levels of anxiety in social situations and sometimes extreme sensitivities to light or sound. These changes can improve prison life for prisoners and staff alike.
“It’s wonderful to speak to staff now and hear how they’re already seeing benefits for autistic prisoners. We‘re particularly pleased that HMYOI Feltham’s success is encouraging other prisons and young offenders’ institutions to work with us to improve their own autism practice.”
The recipients of the award were:
- Clare Hughes, the National Autistic Society’s Criminal Justice Manager
- Dr Alexandra Lewis Clinical Lead/Consultant Forensic and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust
- Kim Turner, Speech and Language Therapist at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust
- Mo Foster, Head of Young People & Services at HMYOI Feltham
 Other organisations which make important contributions to this project are: CareUK (who provide primary healthcare services), Prospects and Novus (who provide education services), the Samaritans and Carillion Services for Hounslow Council (who provide library services).