There is a critical need for the Disability Justice Project (DJP) due to the high representation of people with cognitive disabilities who face multiple challenges when they come into contact with the justice system. This might be as a witness, a victim or a perpetrator of crime. This important initiative was aimed at building capacity in the disability services sector to best support people with cognitive disabilities who are in contact, or at risk of contact, with the justice system.
Funded by Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC), the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) and its training arm, Centre for Community Welfare Training (CCWT), worked in partnership with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) and Life Without Barriers (LWB) from July 2015 to November 2017.
Some of the issues for people with cognitive disabilities, when involved with the justice system include:
- People with cognitive disability are over represented in the criminal justice system as both offenders and victims; 
- They are more likely to be arrested, questioned and detained for minor public order offences;
- They are more likely to receive harsher penalties and have less access to sentencing options available to other offenders;
- They may have difficulty understanding questions or instructions provided by police, lawyers, court systems, and therefore have difficulty complying;
- They may seek advice and support from disability service providers who are not well equipped to provide the assistance that service users require.
The DJP also incorporated a particular focus on providing support for Aboriginal people with cognitive disabilities, who are also significantly over represented in the justice system:
- Aboriginal people experience earlier and more frequent contact with the criminal justice system, to have been Juvenile Justice clients, and to have more police and prison episodes throughout their lives;
- Aboriginal people receive little support from community and disability services and the education system, where they are often seen as ‘badly behaved or too hard to control, and left to police to manage’.
The Disability Justice Project Resources
Following widespread consultations in the second half of 2015 the Disability Justice Framework was developed, providing the structure and strategy for the development of resources, training and Communities of Practice across NSW.
A Leaders’ Launch was held in early April 2016. Subsequently a wide range of training was delivered across many locations throughout the state – these comprised a mix of face-to-face courses, generally held at 27 locations across NSW during 2016 and 2017, as well as online courses and webinars.
Details of each these courses are available on this site, as well as the opportunity to download the course materials that were developed and delivered.
The Disability Justice Project provided a number of resources:
- A best practice Framework document;
- Free training for managers and staff in NSW disability services – with many face-to-face, online and webinar courses run across the state;
- Course materials from all completed course – available for download;
- Establishment and support for a number of Communities of Practice across the state, providing ongoing learning and professional development;
- This dedicated Disability Justice Project website, providing a range of tools and resources;
- A regular Leaders’ Forum for Managers and Leaders;
- Regular Newsletters
Disability reform and changes
Over a three year period, the NSW State government has devolved Ageing Disability and Home Care (ADHC) and transitioned government funded disability services to the community sector, in accordance with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NSW Enabling) Act 2013.
Additionally, with the NSW Disability Inclusion Act 2014 (The Act), there was an onus on disability organisations to ensure equal access to justice for the people they are funded to support. The Act gives effect to international human rights obligations and recognises and upholds the rights of people with disability, both during the transition to the NDIS and following its full implementation.
 Baldry. E. Dowse, L., and Clarence, M. People with mental and cognitive disabilities: pathways into prison. Background Paper for Outlaws to Inclusion Conference, February 2012, UNSW. www.mhdcd.unsw.edu.au/publications.html