The topic of justice and in particular social justice has rightly been a big subject for discussion since the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer 2020. Vast portions of the population were newly educated as to the damage the so-called justice system does to the Black and Brown communities. What is less seen is the inherent solidarity that neurodivergent people have with the Black and Brown communities, how both communities with their respective intersections are treated in engagements with the police on the street and in the justice system itself.
To understand this connection, it is important to have a basic understanding of what is meant by Neurodivergent or Neurodiverse.
Neurodivergence is when brain development differs from what is considered the norm of bourgeois society, requiring additional support to function. Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia are the most known forms of neurodivergence, but anything that is not typical can be seen as neurodivergence.
Because of barriers created by assumptions of neurotypicality, neurodivergent people are less likely to find stable employment and more likely to rely on state benefits that place most in abject poverty. With the recent findings that one-in-three prisoners are neurodivergent, it suddenly becomes clear as to why many neurodivergent people fear violence and punishment when encountering the justice system.
While there is some level of training for police officers, this has not stopped the routine use of restraints and excessive handling of neurodivergent people in situations that could have been easily de-escalated. What advice is given places the onus on the individual to access what little support exists and often amounts to “just try to be normal for the policemen”, which for many is impossible.
The behaviours of neurodivergent people are routinely punished for not matching the harsh standards of the state. When those pressures are combined with those of race and economic status, it becomes lethal. Sentences are longer, with no consideration for the wellbeing of the individual.
Neurodivergent Labour (NDL), inspired by the heartbreaking case of Osime Brown, who still faces the threat of being deported to Jamaica, a place where he has no connection, support network, and lacks even memory of, has adopted policy in an effort to raise awareness within the Labour Party as to the urgency of these issues. The policy sets out the need for a full investigation of how the justice system treats neurodivergent people with specific focus on the systemic failings and the underlying bias that condemns so many neurodivergent people.
NDL has submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice’s investigation into neurodiversity in the justice system. It has raised a series of specific demands for change, including:
• interviews to be conducted in a straightforward, non-aggressive way, in plain language, without jargon or figures of speech, and with no questions designed to trap or incriminate the person being interviewed
• during interviews or testimony, adequate time given for the person to process and reply to questions, with no assumption of guilt based on how long they take to do this
• irrelevant personal behaviours, e.g. pacing, rocking, avoiding eye contact, not to be interpreted as guilt
• all venues e.g. courts, interview rooms, to have a benign sensory environment
• adequate resourcing of mental health and social care services so that appropriate, trained professionals can deal with situations rather than the police.
• an end to the criminalisation of non-harmful neurodivergent behaviours
• support rather than punishment if an intolerable environment causes a neurodivergent person to behave in a disruptive way
• an inquiry into how neurodivergent people are treated while in custody
• support and rehabilitation for offenders with ADHD and/or other neurodivergent conditions.