Abstract: High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Criminal Justice System (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

611P High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Criminal Justice System

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hanna Morzenti, MA, MSW, PhD Student, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Background and Purpose: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological condition marked by limitations in communication, empathy, and emotional regulation, impacting 1 in 59 children, a dramatic increase from 1 in 150 children just two decades ago. As of May 2013, an ASD diagnosis incorporates four, once independent, disorders: Asperger’s Syndrome; Autism Disorder; Childhood Degenerative Disorder; and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. An individual diagnosed with ASD requires a specific diagnosis category, on a spectrum of high- to low-functioning (1-3), based on symptom severity. More than 60% of individuals diagnosed with ASD do not meet criteria for an accompanying intellectual impairment (Full Scale IQ ≥71), meeting standards for what clinical professionals would define as high functioning ASD (HFASD). Individuals with HFASD may only require minimal support, as they have learned to function in society through regulated environments. Often, HFASD can go undiagnosed in individuals until they are older, when they exit consistent surroundings and must function independently. The purpose of this research was to critically evaluate current scholarly literature on the prevalence of HFASD within the criminal justice system (CJS). Methods: A scoping review, with systematic elements was conducted to evaluate the prevalence of HFASD within the CJS. Empirical research meeting search criteria was critically appraised to identify the prevalence and incidence of HFASD within the CJS. Specific focus was placed on evaluating the methodological approaches of these studies, including identification of limitations and gaps within the research, as well as recognizing the strengths and recommendations for future research in this area. Results: A critical evaluation of scholarly literature on the prevalence and incidence of autism within the CJS indicates that a lack of standardized methodological approaches used to study this population is a cause for concern. Studies varied in a number of ways, including: study population and sample size; geographical locations where the studies were conducted; settings (e.g., hospitals, prisons, court referral programs, etc.) were evaluation took place; and whether a control group was used. Nevertheless, even with vast methodological limitations, the presences of this diagnosis within the CJS ranges from 3% to 27%, whereas the prevalence of ASD within the general public is around 1%, indicating a higher representation of autism within the CJS. Conclusions and Implications: This research has a significant impact on the social work field as early diagnosis, detection, and treatment of ASD can help prevent future negative impacts of the diagnosis, such as involvement in the criminal justice system. Individuals with ASD are more likely than the general public to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, which means that many of these individuals may end up in a therapists’ office at some point in their lives. Scholarly literature on this population also indicates that punitive sanctions and modest treatment within prisons, jails, or even while on probation/parole, do not deter offenders from subsequent crimes because they are not addressing the underlying problems that lead to the crimes in the first place, creating a costly and detrimental cycle of recidivism.