Doing Justice for and with Criminalised People with Cognitive Impairment

Michael Baker

Intellectual Disability Rights Service
Case Manager

Michael has a background in human and community services. He has worked as a youth worker, disability support worker, support coordinator, manager and case manager across a range of domains of practice, including; at-risk young people, boarding house residents and people with a range of different cognitive impairments in contact with the criminal justice system. He is currently employed by the Intellectual Disability Rights Service as a case manager on the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program.

It is well established that people with cognitive impairment are drastically overrepresented in criminal justice systems across Australian jurisdictions. Social services struggle to respond effectively to the diverse and often complex needs of this group, inadvertently creating a pathway to recidivism and cyclical imprisonment.

For over 30 years the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) - a disability advocacy service and community legal centre in NSW - has been working to advance the rights of people with cognitive impairment in contact with the criminal justice system. IDRS has been contracted to provide casework services as part of an innovative pilot program targeting defendants with a cognitive impairment in NSW. The Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program (CIDP) operates in the NSW Local Court system and provides an opportunity for diverting defendants with cognitive disabilities charged with low level offences away from the criminal justice system and into community-based supports, utilizing NDIS provisions where eligible.

The CIDP has tested an innovative casework model which has resulted in a dramatic increase in the court’s use of diversionary orders, increased engagement with supports and high levels of improved subjective well-being. 85% of clients’ matters have been finalised by way of diversionary orders and the program has enjoyed a participation rate of over 95%. This paper will discuss the core elements of the CIDP approach. In so doing, the paper demonstrates how services and supports can work more effectively with one of the most stigmatised and disadvantaged groups in our community: criminalised people with cognitive impairment.