How to Help if an Autistic Friend or Family Member is in Prison

Knowing how to help autistic family members in the following areas can improve their overall wellbeing while they are there.

Going to jail is difficult for everyone, but for people with autism, the experience can be akin to torture. Some jails won’t give special consideration to autistic adults and may commit abusive acts, knowingly or unknowingly, like withholding medication. To ensure that your autistic friend or family member is comfortable in prison, give them the courage to ask for what they need.

Find Out How to Contact Them in Jail

Keeping in contact with your autistic friend or family member can make all the difference in their life. Most jails will let you send letters, money, and books from secondary sources like Amazon.

Example: Darlington County South Carolina

To search for a specific inmate to send letters, money, or book visits, go to the Darlington County bookings page. In addition, Darlington allows you to schedule video visits with more flexible time slots.

Why Autism Makes Jail and Prison Difficult

In general, prisons are ill-equipped to accommodate people on the spectrum. Stating this as fact isn’t meant to scare loved ones. However, knowing how to help autistic family members in the following areas can improve their overall wellbeing. 

  • Autistic individuals have difficulty understanding social cues. This may cause them to get into more fights with inmates or prison staff.
  • Sensory sensitivity from bright lights and noises can exacerbate anxiety.
  • Prison staff isn’t likely to give autistic people medication unless asked.
  • Gullibility in prison can make you a target, and autistic adults are often too trusting.
  • The stress of understanding perceived social cues can lead to depression.
  • Differences between unspoken rules and official rules may confuse them.
  • Inmates on the spectrum may not be able to read body language.
  • Ignorance from prison staff may cause autistic inmates to be punished unfairly.

Autism in no way means that someone is more likely to commit criminal activity. They’re more likely to adhere to laws. If they find themselves in jail or prison, they will need the support of their friends and family to stay in control while incarcerated. 

How to Help Individuals on the Spectrum Who Are Incarcerated

Knowing how to help autistic family members in the following areas can improve their overall wellbeing while they are there.

Post Bail for Pre-Sentenced Arrests

Jails aren’t just filled with people serving sentences; they are also holding cells for pre-trial arrests. If your friend or family member is awaiting trial, you can call a bondsman and post bail as long as they comply with the conditions of release. This will vary across based on the state, jail, and crime committed. Some people may be released for free after their first court appearance. 

Explain The Intricacies of Prison Life

It will be upsetting for both you and your loved one, but you need to research prison life. Discussing with your loved one how to avoid potential fights, remain calm under pressure, and how to understand inmate social cues can help them adjust and stay comfortable.

Contact the Jailor Loved One About Medication

All inmates have the right to receive medication while incarcerated, but they may not receive treatment unless they ask the staff. Tell your loved ones to discuss appropriate medication that should be prescribed to them with a psychiatrist. You may be able to bring in medicines from the outside or contact medical staff directly to ensure your loved one gets what they need.

Ask to Move the Inmate to a Special-Needs Unit

Not all prisons have special-needs units, but those that do will be paired with less aggressive prisoners. Within the right special-needs unit, prisoners will have increased access to medical care, lowered rates of violence, and a decreased likelihood of being put on suicide watch.

Send Money for Commissaries to Spend on Necessities

Being away from home can shock most people. However, it will be difficult for you to send specific items without them being thrown out. However, you can send your loved one money by mail or add funds to their wallet online. With that money, they can buy earplugs, books, mp3 players, and sleeping masks to improve their sleep and help them calm down.

By The Mom Kind

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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