• Indigenous Australians are overepresented in the prison population (sbs)Source: sbs
An overwhelming majority of First Nations peoples in the nation’s prisons have some form of disability.
Sarah Collard

23 Dec 2020 - 4:20 PM  UPDATED 23 Dec 2020 - 4:20 PM

People with disability, particularly First Nations people with disability, are overrepresented at all stages of the criminal justice system.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been hearing from people with disabilities and legal and justice advocates in response to the Commission's papers into criminal justice issues.

The Australian Centre for Disability Law estimated that 95 per cent of Indigenous people appearing in court charged with a criminal offence have an intellectual disability, cognitive impairment or mental illness.

Many responses cited the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2018 findings that people with disability form 29 per cent of the prison population in Australia, despite being only 18 per cent of the general population.

The Royal Commission has published the Overview of Responses to the Criminal Justice Issues Paper, which detailed 48 responses from people living with disabilities, their families as well as justice and disability advocates and experts.

Concerns have also being raised about the ‘criminalisation’ of disabilities due to a lack of appropriate services to divert people from the criminal justice system. 

International rights group, Human Rights Watch raised serious concerns about Indigenous peoples with disability being at high risk of self harm and preventable deaths in custody. 

They estimated that over 40 percent of cases involved a person who lived  with some form of disability. 

The interim report handed down by the Royal Commission in October found First Nations peoples with disabilities are more likely to experience harm than others because of a lack of culturally appropriate services and support.

Respondents to the justice issues paper called for a number of recommendations to reduce the rates of people  with disabilities being caught up in the justice system. 

Including that the Australian government work with states and territories to start doing independent inspections of prisons and detention facilities, disability awareness training for people working within the criminal justice  system, and improving the collection of statistics for prisoners living with disabilities.