More support required for NDIS and people with intellectual disabilities

More support required for NDIS and people with intellectual disabilities

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Our Chief Counsel Tim Marsh recently attended the 14th Reintegration Puzzle conference ‘Smarter Justice, Safer communities conference, and was part of a panel discussion canvassing the topic, ‘People with Disability in the Criminal Justice System and the NDIS’. Tim co-presented with Colleen Pearce from the Office of the Public Advocate.

Tim said the increased incarceration of people with disabilities was concerning. Victoria Legal Aid was taking the lead in highlighting the unfairness of such action.

‘We are seeing larger numbers of clients with minimal offending histories being locked up for lengthy terms on remand.

‘This is a dire situation and we need to change the narrative on public safety and law and order.

‘The opportunity for us as advocates is that these client stories are compelling, and we have a unique opportunity to reshape the public narrative through storytelling,’ he said.

Tim believes the justice system is particularly challenging for people with disabilities.

The analogy I’m increasingly fond of is that, for people with disabilities, the justice system is a lobster pot.

‘It’s easy to get into, but almost impossible to exit. Effective and early coordination is essential to getting vulnerable clients out of custody.’

The challenges for the NDIS are particularly significant in regional areas.

‘When people talk about ‘thin markets’ in the NDIS they are talking about the paucity of qualified and willing providers, but it’s also important to consider this from a geographic perspective.

‘Many people with disabilities are on fixed incomes and gravitate to regional centres where the cost of living is cheaper.

‘If you think that markets are thin in the metropolitan areas, they are non-existent in the regions,’ said Tim.

Tim also believes the jailing of increased numbers of people with an intellectual disability is counterproductive.

‘People with disability are unable to cope in custody, and some are choosing to remain in lockdown for 23 hours a day, rather than face the unpredictability of mainstream prison life.

‘Their behaviours regress and become more challenging the longer they stay in a custodial environment, thereby undermining their chances of successful reintegration into the community.’

It is vital that support services such as the NDIS are sustained and available to assist those with intellectual disabilities, as the ramifications of a poor service are alarming.

‘There is a new and disturbing trend that’s developing.

‘People are entering the criminal justice system not because their behaviour is inherently criminal, but because their supports in the community are so tenuous and inadequate that their behaviour becomes unmanageable.

‘The offending is minor, and entirely due to service failure, rather that inherently criminal behaviour or beliefs,’ said Tim.

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