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

YVETTE BATES (HMP Dovegate)

YVETTE BATES (HMP Dovegate)

COMMENDEE 2016-17: Yvette is a Senior Forensic Psychologist at HMP Dovegate, and is granted a Commendation for her work on offenders with autism, which has informed Government thinking, and been shared nationally and internationally.

Yvette Bates is a Senior Forensic Psychologist at HMP Dovegate whose pioneering work on offenders with autism has had a deep impact at Dovegate, informed Government thinking, and been shared in national and international forums.

Autism, like learning disabilities (the subject of a Butler Trust Workshop), are significantly over-represented in criminal justice systems, but often poorly recognised, understood, or handled by staff, who often lack specific training. Indeed, as Hazel MacMillan, the Butler Trust Local Champion and Administrator at Dovegate, notes, “there is some suggestion that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are around seven times more likely to come into contact with the Criminal Justice System than those without (Debbaudt, 2004).”

Yvette’s work is helping change this, says Hazel, and now “all offenders coming into Dovegate are now screened for ASD traits, and a formal treatment pathway developed for them, overseen by Yvette.” As Hazel points out, “This in itself will be incredibly significant for the individuals involved making real changes to their experience of being in prison.”

Nominator Natalie Leech, Yvette’s Line Manager and Principal Forensic Psychologist at Dovegate, says that Yvette “has resolutely and consistently focused on the needs of offenders on the autistic spectrum. She has brought their particular difficulties and challenges to the forefront at HMP Dovegate in many different ways.”

Natalie explains that Yvette’s background in secure hospital services involved working with patients with ASD, so when Yvette started at HMP Dovegate in 2006, she soon “became aware of a knowledge gap that staff had in working with offenders with ASD. At the time there was no training package available so she gave ongoing support to wing staff and, if required, more formal consultancy about individual offenders, to help staff understand the issues faced by offenders with ASD and how their behaviour can be impacted by, and impact upon, the prison regime.”

Having taken on the role of Lead for Autism at HMP Dovegate, Yvette developed a training package for staff, which she has delivered to over 100 members of staff. She has also carried out research to inform a new screening tool to both measure ASD prevalence and to identify offenders in custody with traits of ASD. As Natalie says, this work was “the first of its kind and a very important step in the arena of ASD in prisons.” As a result, “Yvette has presented this research and the strategy that she developed for Psychological Services at HMP Dovegate to work with ASD offenders, at national and international forums.”

A further impact of Yvette’s work is that HMP Dovegate’s approach to working with ASD offenders has been discussed at ministerial level – and was recognised as best practice in a government white paper published in April 2014, Think Autism: Fulfilling and rewarding lives, the strategy for adults with autism in England: an update.

This work, says Natalie, “is making a positive impact to their lives whilst at HMP Dovegate and beyond.” She adds, “the motivation, enthusiasm and commitment that Yvette has for this area is contagious.”

In short, Yvette is described as having “incredible dedication and commitment to her vocation”, because “at her heart is the offender and their needs”, based on an “exemplary” approach to work combined with “ethical and balanced decision making.”

Kerry Hewitt, Assistant Director at Dovegate, and the Senior Management Team representative for autism, says “without Yvette’s dedication and commitment we would not have made the progress we have and she is the lynch pin in our strategy moving forward.”

Vicky Pails, Contract Director at Dovegate, was particularly impressed with “Yvette’s focus on how we can support people with autistic traits to use their sometimes unique talents and abilities to make a success of their own lives and benefit others.”

Dr Juli Crocombe, Clinical Director for ASD at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Birmingham says “Yvette has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of autism within the prison. She has succeeded in influencing senior managers to endorse an Autism Strategy that recognises the needs of prisoners with autism and promotes the training of all prison staff to enable them to support these needs.”

As the Director at Dovegate, Vicky Pails, points out, “Yvette’s work has already been recognised as good practice throughout the prison system.”

Yvette herself recalls becoming aware that there were prisoners in Dovegate “who were behaving in a way to me that suggested that they may have additional responsivity needs and potential traits of autism. When I asked the question ‘do we know if they have a diagnosis of autism?’, I was met with responses of ‘what is autism?’, ‘what does that look like?’ and ‘how would that impact on this prisoners’ behaviour in prison?.’” She set out to answer these questions by developing an Autism Awareness training package for staff working within the prison setting, giving more general information related to what autism is, how it may look for autistic individuals, explaining why it was important for staff to know about this area and how they could best support those prisoners with an existing diagnosis or those who displayed traits.”

As Yvette explains, “Typically, those who come to our attention within the prison do so due to being considered vulnerable or due to them displaying behaviour that can be perceived as being against the ‘good order’ of the prison. Whatever the scenario, understanding the behaviour, and how this can be explained in terms of the prisoner having autism, can encourage a ‘different perspective’ and offers the opportunity for reasonable adjustments to be made.”

In recent years there have been very high profile cases involving the potential extradition to the United States of America, involving British ‘hackers’ with ASD traits, and recently Yvette has been invited to support and participate in a research project looking into Cyber Crime, “an offence type that is currently being investigated in terms of potential links with some autistic individuals.”

As became very clear in the Butler Trust Workshop on Learning Disabilities and from other Butler Trust winners (one example this year is Sofia Buncy, for her work with Muslim Women in Prison), all too often certain conditions or groups within the system bring complex and specific needs, which in turn will take experience, knowledge, and often training, to address. People like Yvette are at the forefront of sharing such expertise – and so helping those who work in prison and related services to become even better at changing the lives of those in their custody and care.

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