What the project involved

We began with a literature review to evaluate the tools, processes and approaches being used to identify disability and link Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners to rehabilitation and treatment. This was followed by interviews with stakeholders across different levels and sectors to understand the prison journey and process for community reintegration. The final stage was community consultation. We directly engaged with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to seek input into solutions that respond to the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners and ex-prisoners with disability. The delivery of the ADNIP report was the result of successful collaborations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, corrective services and our research partners.

Key findings

The report found a number of areas where better knowledge and programs can ensure prisoners with disability are treated with dignity during and after their sentence term.

  • There is a general lack of research into disability identification tools and processes in prisons (both for Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners).
  • No evidence was found that cultural relevance of assessment tools is considered in prison, which is exacerbated by the general lack of culturally validated tools.
  • Identification of disability in prison is reliant on self-reporting, which does not match cultural ways and is prevented by the likelihood of apparent or potential discrimination.
  • Assessment for disabilities on entry to prison is usually limited to ‘visible’ disabilities, resulting in an underdiagnosis of more hidden disabilities, particularly if they are not self-reported or unknown.
  • Mental health and intellectual disability are more likely to be assessed and referred for services than other disability types.
  • Different types of cognitive impairment are poorly differentiated.
  • Available knowledge about FASD and hearing loss focuses on paediatric populations so the impairments are even more hidden and poorly recognised in adults in the prison setting.
  • There is a lack of time, resources and training for staff to conduct a proper assessment in terms of disability, mental illness and cultural sensitivity.
  • There is a requirement for the development of a workforce with adequate knowledge and skills about disability and experience of culture, with sufficient capacity to deliver an individualised response.
  • The system must provide a more integrated approach to timely information management and access to appropriate resources.
  • Most high-priority solutions are related to culturally appropriate disability assessment and support including:
    › a need for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the prison workforce (across all types of positions within the prison and following release)
    › increased access to cultural activities in prison (including connection to culture through Elders programs and yarning circles; cultural activities)
    › better connection to family for prisoners (in prison and in preparation for release)
    › culturally appropriate assessment methods (including more cultural support during assessments; and making holistic assessments inclusive of the person’s history and family knowledge)
    › Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples-led reintegration supports (coordinated cultural and reintegration supports).

Research process


Artwork by Aunty Lauraine Barlow

The Aboriginal artwork used for the ADNIP  document is by Aunty Lauraine Barlow. This painting, called Wamu Possibilities, is used with her permission as a symbol for the project. Her description of the art is:  Wamu (the black worker ant) works tirelessly and his tracks lead off in many directions, indicating the many different and complex paths we can follow in life. Two people are holding hands representing the need for support to create opportunities when our paths become lost. The triangles symbolise the balance between mind, body and land which is a strong stabilising force to help people find productive pathways in life.