Adults with autism spectrum disorder and the criminal justice system: An investigation of prevalence of contact with the criminal justice system, risk factors and sex differences in a specialist assessment service

Autism. 2022 Nov;26(8):2098-2107. doi: 10.1177/13623613221081343. Epub 2022 Mar 9.


There has been growing interest in offending and contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it is not clear whether people with ASD offend more than those without ASD. Studies have started to look at whether there are particular offences people with ASD are more likely to commit and whether there are any factors that can affect whether someone comes into contact with the CJS as a potential suspect. This study looked at the patients who attended an ASD diagnostic service over a 17-year period to see the rate of contact with the CJS of those who were diagnosed with ASD and whether there were any particular factors that might increase the risk of CJS contact. Nearly a quarter of the ASD group had some contact with the CJS as a potential suspect. Factors that seemed to increase whether someone with ASD was more likely to have contact with the CJS were being male, being diagnosed with ADHD, and being diagnosed with psychosis. This study is one of the largest studies to investigate the rate of CJS contact as a potential suspect in a sample of adults with ASD in an attempt to give a clearer picture of what might influence someone with ASD to engage in offending behaviour in order to try to see what mental health services can offer to reduce the likelihood of someone with ASD coming into contact with the CJS, for example, treatment for another condition or support.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; crime; criminal justice system; offending; risk factors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Criminal Law
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics