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People with disability over represented at all stages of the criminal justice system

People with disability, particularly First Nations people with disability, are over represented at all stages of the criminal justice system, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been told in responses to its Criminal Justice System Issues Paper.

The Royal Commission has published the Overview of Responses to the Criminal Justice Issues Paper, along with 48 responses on its website.

Responses were received from people with disability, advocacy organisations, legal organisations, court administration bodies and service providers, who expressed major concerns about the over-representation of people with disability at all stages of the criminal justice system.

Many responses cited the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2018 findings that people with disability form 29 per cent of the prison population in Australia, despite being only 18 per cent of the general population.

The Australian Centre for Disability Law estimated that 95 per cent of First Nations people charged with criminal offences who appear in court have an intellectual disability, a cognitive impairment or a mental illness.

People with disability were also overrepresented as victims of crime.

WWILD Sexual Violence Prevention Association told the Royal Commission that men and women with cognitive disabilities suffer ‘extremely high’ rates of sexual violence in the community.

Responses said that better supports and services are needed to assist people with disability to prevent them coming into contact with the justice system, and to navigate its complexities.

The Law Council of Australia explained that behaviour associated with a person’s impairment, health condition and past trauma is often interpreted as difficult or defiant behaviour, leading to disproportionate interactions with police and the ‘criminalisation of disability’.

Responses also highlighted challenges in reporting violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, ranging from support workers and carers acting as gatekeepers to reporting complaints, to police perceptions that people with disability do not make credible witnesses.

Some responses called for better support for offenders with disability in and exiting the prison system to prevent violence, abuse and neglect in detention settings, as well as to assist people with disability to rehabilitate in the community.

The Royal Commission welcomes further submissions about the experiences of people with disability with the criminal justice system.

The Royal Commission will consider the responses and the proposals for change before it hands down its Final Report.