How does disability support work in the justice system?

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People come into contact with the criminal justice system for many different reasons and often need support during their sentence.

Key points

  • People with disability involved in the justice system may receive supports from that system, the NDIS, or both
  • The NDIS will only provide funding for limited support to people in this situation as the justice system is expected to provide most supports
  • You can get more help to leave the justice system if you need support related to your disability

For people with disability in the criminal justice system, that support might include services related to their disability.

These supports may be provided through the justice system – funded by State and Territory Governments – or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), funded by the Federal Government.

What will the NDIS fund?

There are very limited circumstances where the NDIS will fund supports for a person with disability dealing with the justice system.

This is because the NDIS is not set up to fund supports when any other Government system can do so.

However, you can have some support from the NDIS when it is ‘appropriate’ to your circumstances, for example for:

  • Select assistive technology, such as a replacement prosthetic limb – although assistive technology will need to be approved by the justice system in case it poses a risk to others
  • Training for staff working with you to provide disability support
  • Capacity building support services to help you with life when you’re released, such as support coordination, a psychosocial recovery coach, occupational therapy or behaviour supports

If you had an NDIS plan before going into custody you can apply for your other supports to resume when you are released back into the community, although you will likely need to have a plan review to cover the change in your circumstances.

Some people are diagnosed with disability after they enter the justice system through regular health and other assessments done when they enter custody, that are designed to show which programs they should be channelled into and what support they might benefit from.

This diagnosis can then be used to apply for the NDIS if you are eligible.

In some cases, you might not receive any NDIS supports in custody, for example if the justice system completely covers your support needs, but you can still have an NDIS plan to outline your goals. In this situation your plan will simply have no funding included in it.

You can have review meetings and other NDIS meetings while in prison and your plan cannot be cancelled because of you entering prison.

If you are given a leave of absence order, also known as therapeutic leave, and are allowed to return to the community for periods of time, the NDIS will fund disability related supports for things like capacity building, personal care and accessing social or recreational activities.

For those who are sentenced to community service hours, home detention or are released on parole, the NDIS will fund your regular supports as they would for anyone who is not in contact with the justice system.

As always, the supports you receive through the NDIS must be considered reasonable and necessary to be funded.

You may also come across NDIS Justice Liaison Officers whose job is to connect people with disability in the justice system to the NDIS and work with staff of the justice system to coordinate support for NDIS participants.

What will the justice system fund?

Most disability services you need while in custody should be provided by the justice system.

This includes personal care, for tasks like eating, dressing and showering, and disability-related health supports like continence products or nutrition services.

While you’re in custody the justice system is required to make the environment accessible for you.

This includes physical accessibility, such as installing ramps or grab rails, and providing accessible information, communication and engagement support, such as Auslan interpreting, large print and Easy English resources.

The justice system will provide any transport you need, for example if you need to go to court, as well as legal assistance services and programs for rehabilitation that you might need, for example drug and alcohol services or mental health support.

Any cultural, linguistic or religious support you need while in custody, including First Nations and other cultural liaison officers, is the obligation of the justice system.

It is also the responsibility of the justice system to provide you with the supports you need to reduce your risk of offending when you return to the community, and you will have access to development programs for some skills to help with your transition out of custody.

As part of this transition you will also have access to case management services to help with engaging services such as child protection and family support, health, mental health, housing or homelessness, although in some cases you might need the more specialised experience of an NDIS support coordinator.

If you are on a leave of absence order the justice system will continue to fund supports that ensure you stick to the order’s conditions or reduce your risk of offending.

What other supports are available?

Mainstream Government services might be part of your transition into the community from custody, which the justice system will connect you to depending on what services will suit your situation.

This could include housing, if you are not looking for NDIS supported housing, support to find a job through employment services, or financial support through Centrelink payments.

You can also use Medicare to financially support you with health and medication costs and mental health support.

Some charities, faith-based organisations and other community groups may also provide services you benefit from, such as programs that connect you with other people in your community to build your social skills.

The formal services you receive should be provided by support workers with the skills and experience to safely support you, because your situation can be very complex due to the different aspects of your life and may involve a lot of different Government rules.

If you feel like your supports are not working for you, or you have not been able to access supports you think you are eligible for, it could be helpful to contact a disability advocate.

An advocate can assist you to navigate the Government systems and work with you to get the supports you need.

What else would you like to know about systems that interact with the NDIS? Tell us in the comments below.

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Receiving the best care in hospital when living with a disability
Mental health and the NDIS
How to apply for the NDIS