We are delighted to announce the launch of Examining Criminal (In)Justice Across the Autism Spectrum*, a two-stage project examining experiences and perceptions Autistic people have of the criminal justice system. This project aims to study the experiences and perceptions Autistic people have of the criminal justice system in order to articulate its current strengths and challenges, to draft recommendations on policy for the Canadian government, and to identify areas for further research. Autistic people are contributing to the design of the study, its dissemination, and its outputs. The first stage of the project is a nationwide survey, and the second is a set of sessions with a policy development working group composed of Autistic stakeholders from throughout Canada.

We use the term ‘Autistic people’ recognizing that many autistic self-advocates embrace identity-first language; it captures autism as a fundamental part of a person and their identity rather than positioning a person as ‘oppressed’ by their autism. To be clear, we do not strive to tell anyone what language to use and we respect the term(s) anyone on the autism spectrum prefers when self-identifying.

The project is being led by Dr. Stephanie Ehret, a critical criminologist in the Department of Sociology at Trent University and the co-investigator is Dr. Mackenzie Salt, an Autistic autism researcher with the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance, or CASDA for short, and McMaster University. CASDA, the partner organization, is represented by Dr. Jonathan Lai, Executive Director, and Stephanie Côté, Manager of Policy Initiatives.

Findings from this project will be crucial in understanding how the criminal justice system in Canada is experienced and perceived by Autistic people.

Through this project, we will reach out to Autistic people in order to gather knowledge about their views on criminal justice, both through direct experience and by other insights and/or concerns. The project also provides opportunities for participants to share their hopes on how criminal justice conversations and mechanisms can improve. Experiences that Autistic people have with the criminal justice system are under-researched and this project will help to fill this gap.

We will be hiring two students – one undergraduate and one graduate – to assist with survey dissemination, coordination and analyses, and with organizational tasks for the focus group sessions as well as coding and analyses and knowledge mobilization intensives.

*Examining Criminal (In)Justice Across the Autism Spectrum is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.