Stories of disability-related experiences in the criminal justice system of Victoria.
This section contains stories of Poppy and Tom*, who were involved in the Centre for Innovative Justice and Jesuit Social Services’ Enabling Justice project. They have been reproduced here to illustrate the different ways people with disability move through the criminal justice system. These are the experiences, ideas and views of each individual person featured here. Your own situation may be different and these ideas may not work for you or your client.
A further story reflecting the experience of Lina*, a lawyer working with people with disability, is drawn from research with lawyers to create this resource.
The Voices for Change self-advocacy group for people with ABI and lived-experience of the criminal justice system worked with the Centre for Innovative Justice to develop a podcast series called 'Our Voices' for the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The podcast series explores the personal experiences of the self-advocates and their priorities for change in the justice system. You can subscribe and listen to the 6 episode podcast series on this link.
* Not their real names.
"I wasn't believed or heard. I felt invisible." – Poppy.
Poppy has an ABI as a result of violence in the family home as a child. Poppy later experienced violence at the hands of intimate partners. Police did not recognise Poppy as a victim, nor as someone with an ABI. As a result, rather than getting the help she needed, Poppy was driven deeper into the criminal justice system and ultimately imprisoned.
Throughout her involvement in the justice system, Poppy’s disability was not recognised by police. Poppy was often alone with male police officers and felt threatened. Police laughed and jeered at her and did not offer her support. No one recognised that Poppy might need support as a victim of family violence and as a person with an ABI.
"I’ve never felt supported. I always feel 'less than'." – Tom.
Tom has been in and out of institutions since he was five. He began using drugs early in life, and as a result of this (and a number of overdoses), he has an ABI. Tom also experiences mental illness and homelessness. In prison, Tom could not get the help he needed to rehabilitate. Similarly, he struggled to complete corrections orders and parole in the community because of his ABI and the lack of available support.
The effects of Tom’s dual disability were not understood and he was made to feel undeserving of support, despite his significant support needs. Tom felt like custodial officers and community corrections officers were not there to help him, and they changed so often that it was hard to keep up. Tom sometimes misunderstood or forgot what he was meant to do, and was confused when he faced penalties for non-compliance.
"The NDIS is complex. As lawyers we need to know how to navigate it so we can better help our clients". – Lina.
Lina is a criminal lawyer and has been working in the justice system for many years. The roll-out of the NDIS has seen a number of services she used to refer her clients to disappear. It feels like more of her clients are ending up in custody than ever before. Lina has many clients who return to her after breaching court orders and falling through the cracks in the overstretched service system.
The lack of referral pathways and long-term funding for programs makes Lina feel like the odds are stacked against her clients no matter how much work she puts into their cases.
Lina feels overworked and unsupported. The rapidly changing service landscape is confusing and she doesn’t feel like there is enough time to understand the NDIS on top of her case load.
Supporting Justice © Centre for Innovative Justice, RMIT University, 2019
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