Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice



COMMENDEE 2019-20: Heather’s Commendation is for her outstanding work, as a Band 5 Manager at HMP Whatton, in developing a raft of high-quality autism-related initiatives, culminating in the prison’s accreditation by the National Autistic Society.

Heather’s initial nominator, and HMP Whatton’s Head of Offender Management, Howard Sandall, explains that for the last three years Whatton has been working to achieve National Autism Accreditation through the National Autistic Society. Heather played a key role as joint lead on the initiative, he explains, “and conducted her work in a pro-social way, involving autistic prisoners in steering group meetings as part of the decision-making process.”

Howard praised Heather’s “ability, confidence and commitment to take on a complex project that need some considerable deliberation and discussion across multi-disciplinary teams.” He cites the example of communicating individual prisoner autistic spectrum traits to everyone. “This was achieved by the adoption of a prisoner passport scheme known locally as an Autism Support Knowledge (ASK) profile. This is generated firstly by the Mental Health team and then completed with the prisoner via the Offender Supervisor. Currently we have ASK documents on all units and integrated into procedural processes including, the IEP scheme, Adjudication process, psychology & OMU files and the ACCT process.” All of these changes, he adds, “have resulted in a greater awareness of Autism and how the traits can be misinterpreted as bad behaviour instead of a prisoner’s autistic traits.” By making reasonable adjustments and creating a greater understanding of autism, he says:

“We now have an enthusiastic autism prisoner support group at the forefront of equalities integration. The impact has been startling with a new confidence being displayed by autistic prisoners and a willingness to engage in activities that previously they would not have considered.”

Other examples mentioned by Howard include recent National Autism Awareness Week activities at Whatton, devised by autistic prisoners, which included them “delivering speeches on how they cope in a prison setting to large groups of people.” Meanwhile, a new Autism Support Group “is well attended, bringing social isolated prisoners together in a group setting and having full engagement with others.”

Howard also notes that “the impact on staff has also been significant. The cultural change and the inclusion of the ‘ASK’ support passport is now considered through all elements of both administrative and disciplinary processes. Staff have more confidence to try and help prisoners and understand their particular traits and more importantly know who to approach for guidance when previously the issue may have been too complicated to pursue.”

He explains that Heather volunteered to take on this new initiative “over and above her role as a band 5 Hub Manager. Her compassion and endeavour drove the progression intelligently at a pace that has assisted new systems to be embedded into daily routine and gone a long way to changing the culture,” before concluding that “Heather embellishes HMPPS principles whilst striving for continuous improvement around equality for all.”

Gerry Bishop, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance, adds that “all of these changes have resulted in a greater awareness of Autism and how the traits can be misinterpreted as bad behaviour instead of a prisoner’s autistic traits,” and says:

“Without Heather’s dedication and commitment none of this would have been achieved as quickly or successfully.”

He adds that “it is important to note this core strand of work has resulted in HMP Whatton receiving National Autism Accreditation from the National Autism Society,” which it gained in May 2019.

Gerry concludes by observing that:

“Staff have more confidence to try and help prisoners and understand their particular traits and more importantly know who to approach for guidance when previously the issue may have been too complicated to pursue!”

Governor Lynn Saunders describes Heather as someone who “prides herself in applying correct planning and due care and attention which helps to promote a supportive environment for staff and prisoners,” and who “has a prisoner outcome focus in all that she does.”

Heather herself explains in more detail some of the work the project has involved: “I’ve sourced training material and organised training, available to all current and new HMP Whatton staff via different tools and packages. I have implemented systems to identify men and transgender detainees at HMP Whatton and the individual support they require at the earliest opportunity, mainly through the Autism Support Knowledge (A.S.K.) process.”

She adds that “the process is devised as a communication tool for staff and prisoners in addition to their individual careplans which are completed by the healthcare provider Intellectual Learning Difficulties (ILD) nurse.”

Meanwhile, the A.S.K document “identifies traits, behaviours and ways to support the men and is completed in liaison with key multidisciplinary staff and the prisoners themselves. The document is distributed throughout departments of the establishment essential for the support, progression and management of the prisoners for example residence, safer custody, activities, parole, programmes etc.”

Other initiatives include implementing “15 easy read booklets, available to all new prisoner receptions in both large print A4 booklets and smaller in-possession A5 leaflets,” says Heather. “These booklets provide information regarding key activities, provisions and processes that all prisoners should be aware of.” Indeed, Heather has also received requests from other organisations and establishments for copies of the booklets for wider use.

Heather also “organised additional signage, both wall-mounted and painted linear guidance in accordance to the NAS guidelines so people can navigate the large establishment more confidently”, and “arranged and facilitated focus group meetings and project management meetings and provided progress reports to senior management throughout the last 3 years.” There are also autism support meetings for prisoners providing “a smaller, more focused forum for them to discuss matters in a comfortable setting.”

Heather concludes by making a point about the wider impact of her work on autism:

“During the three years it became apparent that many staff and prisoners have family members or friends with autism due to the amount of people who approached me wanting to either talk or become involved with the project.”


With thanks to HMP Whatton, especially initial nominator and Head of Offender Management Howard Sandall, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance Gerry Bishop, and Governor Lynn Saunders, for their contributions.

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