Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) continues to seek urgent solutions for our young client Francis who has been in jail for over two months, due to service gaps of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
‘Francis is still languishing in prison despite the personal intervention of Minister Martin Foley and media scrutiny,’ said Mental Health and Disability Advocacy Program Manager Sonia Law. ‘We’re calling on the service provider to act as quickly as possible and get this young man out of jail.'
Twenty-year-old Francis has significant intellectual disability, autism and Tourette’s. He is estimated to share the capacity of a three or four-year-old child.
On 16 September, he was arrested and placed on remand after a minor assault while living in a Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) house. Francis has never been in custody before and he has no prior criminal convictions. Two days after his arrest, his disability service provider withdrew from its contract, stating Francis was ‘a business risk’. Francis has an NDIS plan that entitles him to one million dollars’ worth of around-the-clock support services, but because no service provider wants to run these services, he remains in jail.
VLA has identified at least three other clients who are in a similar position to Francis. 'We’re seeing cases where service providers pull out of contracts and others simply say they don’t want to provide care to our clients, despite their NDIS plans offering generous funding for supports and services.
'In such cases, even minor offending leads to long-term imprisonment because bail can’t be granted to our clients without services on the ground and no one will step in and provide these services.' Sonia said.
To highlight Francis’s case and the lack of a safety net for recipients of NDIS plans, VLA approached the ABC’s 7.30 Report, . This lead to the Victorian Minister for Disability Martin Foley declaring he would personally intervene to secure services for Francis.
Francis is not faring well in jail. His lawyer Lucy Geddes told 7.30 Report he appeared to be distressed when she visited him two weeks ago: ‘His shirt appeared to be covered in blood stains and his fingers appeared to be bloody ... and it was particularly distressing five days later when I appeared in court on behalf of Francis and Francis appeared – wearing the same t-shirt and then the next day when I had a further video conference with him, so six days after that initial visit, he remained in that bloodied t-shirt.’
At a bail hearing last week, prison staff told the court Francis could not appear on videolink as he had not slept the night before and had flooded his cell. That hearing was adjourned to Thursday 23 November where it is hoped a permanent solution can be found for Francis.
‘The longer Francis stays in jail, the more distressed he is becoming and it is very concerning,’ said Sonia. ‘We had an assurance from the minister but we need those services to come onboard and for Francis to be securely and sensitively transitioned from custody and into the community’.
Reviewed 28 April 2022