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.
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), have been working in partnership with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) and Life Without Barriers (LWB) on the DJP since July 2015.
This very important initiative is aimed at building disability services sector capacity to best support people with cognitive disabilities who are in contact, or at risk of contact, with the justice system. Some of the issues for people with cognitive disabilities 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 incorporates a particular focus on providing support for Aboriginal people with cognitive disabilities who are also overly 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 2015 the Disability Justice Framework has been developed and the project is now in the next stage of development.
Following a Leader’s Launch in early April, the free training has commenced. These are a mix of face-to-face courses held at numerous locations across NSW during 2016 and 2017, as well as online courses and webinars.
Details of each course will be published on this site as the locations and timing are finalised.
The Disability Justice Project will be ongoing until July 2017 and will provide a number of resources:
- A best practice Framework document;
- Free training for managers and staff in NSW disability services – with online, webinar and face-to-face courses run across the state;
- The establishment of Communities of Practice for ongoing learning and professional development;
- This dedicated Disability Justice Project website, providing a range of tools and resources;
- Bi-monthly Leaders Forums for Managers and Leaders.
Disability reform and changes
Over the next three years, the NSW State government will be devolving Ageing Disability and Home Care (ADHC) and transitioning government funded disability services to the community sector in accordance with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NSW Enabling) Act 2013.
Additionally, with the recently enacted NSW Disability Inclusion Act 2014 (The Act), there will be 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