The Prevalence of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Criminal Justice System


Past surveys have reported high rates of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, however, little research has examined the frequency with which youth with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are in contact with law enforcement. Using records linkage with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program (SC ADDM), this study compares the frequency, type, and outcome of criminal charges for youth with ASD and non-ASD youth. Youth with ASD had higher rates of crimes against persons and lower rates of crimes against property. Youth with ASD were more likely to be diverted into pre-trial interventions and less likely to be prosecuted than comparison youth. When compared to the overall SC ADDM sample, charged youth were less likely to have comorbid intellectual disability.

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Supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Enhancing Public Health Surveillance of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Developmental Disabilities through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

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Correspondence to Catherine A. Cheely.

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Cheely, C.A., Carpenter, L.A., Letourneau, E.J. et al. The Prevalence of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Criminal Justice System. J Autism Dev Disord 42, 1856–1862 (2012).

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  • Autism
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Criminality
  • Juvenile justice