Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why Aboriginal people with disabilities crowd Australia’s prisons

Eileen Baldry, Elizabeth McEntyre, Ruth McCausland The Conversation November 2, 2015

Research released today shows Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability are ‘managed’ by police, courts and prisons due to a lack of appropriate community-based services.

Australia imprisons thousands of Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability each year. A widespread lack of understanding – and action – underpins this shameful breach of human rights.

The number of people in Australian prisons recently reached an all time high of 33,791, with 27% or 9,264 of those prisoners identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. People with mental and cognitive disability who are poor, disadvantaged, and Aboriginal are overrepresented in this increase.

To clarify, mental disabilities include disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, personality disorders and psychosis. People can experience these for a short time or throughout their lives. While cognitive disability covers impairments such as intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, dementia and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). These are ongoing impairments in comprehension, reason, judgement, learning or memory.

A predictable path

A study we released today shows how Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability are being ‘managed’ by police, courts and prisons due to a dire lack of appropriate community-based services and support.

The Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project draws on a unique data set of 2,731 people who’ve been imprisoned in New South Wales, which holds more than a third of Australia’s prison population. A quarter of people in the data set are Indigenous……………

We found Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability are forced into the criminal justice system early in life. Coming from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, they receive little support from community and disability services or the education system.

These people are often seen as badly behaved or too hard to control, and left to police to manage. While this also applies to non-Indigenous people with disability from disadvantaged backgrounds, we found it’s much more serious for Indigenous people.

Indigenous people in the group we studied were 2.6 times more likely to have been in out-of-home care as children……………….

Four key drivers

Our research shows four major issues underlie these shocking statistics:

1. People don’t understand what cognitive disability is…………..

2. High levels of stress in some Aboriginal communities ………….

3. Many Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system have ‘complex support needs’………..

4. A lack of appropriate support for Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability……………

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