Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is pleased that our client Francis has been granted bail. On Monday he will be transitioned from jail into the community, with 24-hour support from a reputable community services organisation.
‘I’m relieved that after a long delay Francis will have access to his NDIS supports in the community. We know that every day spent in custody is doing him harm,’ said VLA Mental Health and Disability Advocacy Program Manager Sonia Law.
Francis has been in the Melbourne Assessment Prison for two months after being remanded for a minor assault in September. Earlier this month he spent his twentieth birthday in isolation.
While Francis was the recipient of a funded National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan that included accommodation and support workers, after his arrest his existing service provider pulled out, stating Francis was ‘a business risk’. As no safety net or ‘provider of last resort’ exists in Victoria under the NDIS, Francis found he could not attract a new provider and was therefore stuck in jail.
Francis had never been in custody before and he had no prior criminal convictions.
In a bail hearing today in the Supreme Court, Francis’s new service provider gave evidence that it had started to work with Francis in the last fortnight. Its representatives stated the circumstances meant there had been less time than there ideally would be to conduct necessary transition arrangements.
However, in granting bail, Justice Lex Lasry found that the risk posed by releasing Francis was acceptable, when balanced against the harm he is suffering in custody. ‘He’s in 23-hour lockdown at Melbourne Assessment Prison. I can’t imagine a worse place for him. The longer he is there the more he will be damaged. Who knows what damage has been done already?’
‘The risk ... has been made acceptable through the provision of supports and that his offending was at the lower end of the scale,’ said Justice Lasry.
Francis appeared via videolink in court today and waved several times at his lawyer Lucy Geddes. ‘I'm thankful that Francis will be released, however I'm very concerned about the process that he has been through to get us to today. The system requires urgent change to ensure that this doesn't ever happen again to Francis or to anyone else.' said Lucy.
A provider of last resort is urgent to stop more cases like Francis's
Francis’s bail comes after the ABC’s 7.30 Report program covered his story, leading to the personal intervention of the Victorian Minister for Disability Martin Foley. Sonia Law said Francis’s case highlights the need for a systemic ‘provider of last resort’ framework to be created urgently under the NDIS.
‘Without the intervention of the Department of Health and Human Services, Francis would not be getting the services he needs to exit custody. It’s a one-off response, so the system gap that we see in Francis’s case is not resolved. This should never have happened – it took far too long to fix and the system problem is still not fixed. We want to hear how the National Disability Insurance Agency and the state government are going to fix this problem.’
VLA acknowledges that Francis’s release is the product of the work of many committed stakeholders who recognised that the system was failing and that Francis’s incarceration was unacceptable.
We continue to work with others to fight for better outcomes from the NDIS and the criminal justice system.
Reviewed 14 April 2022