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Responses to people with disability in the justice system are often ‘inadequate’ and can significantly impact their rights to justice.

A report commissioned by the Disability Royal Commission has found some police responses to people with disability are inadequate and can be ‘damaging’ to their well-being.

The Police responses to people with disability research report, released today, found many people with disability who end up in a life-long cycle of disadvantage and incarceration come into contact with police due to their disadvantaged circumstances and their inability to access effective social services.

Despite a lack of data collection in each state and territory, data that is available shows an over-representation of people with disability in custody including:

  • in Australia while only 2.9% of people have an intellectual disability 1 they make up 15% of the prison population (with the proportion as high as 30% when accounting for borderline intellectual disability) 2
  • in NSW 1 in 4 of Indigenous young people in custody have an intellectual disability. 3

The evidence presented in the report indicates justice systems across Australia in many cases enable, rather than prevent, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.

It found two co-occurring factors drive inadequate police responses for people with disability in crisis situations:

  1. Police officers performing an expanded role as both first responders and de facto social services support
  2. Reduced funding and availability of appropriate social and human services support.

Research showed trauma-informed, culturally safe, community-based and holistic social service support is central to improving how police respond to people with disability. The report notes that there are a number of examples of good practice and alternatives to the current policing models that advocates say should be more widely practiced.

For further information, please contact the Disability Royal Commission Media team on 0436 841 166.


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014). Intellectual Disability, Australia, 2012, Canberra: ABS.

2 Eileen Baldry, Melissa Clarence, Leanne Dowse & Julian Troller (2013). Reducing vulnerability to harm in adults with cognitive disabilities in the Australian criminal justice system, Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 10(3), 222-229.

3 NSW Health and NSW Juvenile Justice (2016). 2015 Young People in Custody Health Survey: Key Findings for all Young People, Sydney: NSW Health and Juvenile Justice.