The Issues

People with disabilities, particularly a cognitive or psychosocial disability, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system in Australia—comprising around 18 percent of the country’s population, but almost 50 percent of people entering prison.[1]

One study found that 82% of adult male prisoners reported at least one past brain injury of any severity and were more likely to report persisting side-effects and to screen positive for impulsivity and dissocial personality disorder than those surveyed from the wider community.[2] Another found that individuals between the age of 0 and 21 years, who had a medically verified occurrence of brain injury which required hospitalisation[3], were at increased risk of arrest, predominantly for either violent or property offences.

Brain injury can impact on people’s ability to:

  • Remember information
  • Regulate emotions
  • Control impulses
  • Concentrate
  • Understand the impact of their behaviour on others
  • Think and learn.

Within the criminal justice system, this has significant consequences when it comes to challenging behaviours during incarceration and the potential for recidivism. It also raises issues around prisoner health and the lack of treatment available: brain injury and its related disabilities currently receive relatively little recognition in the criminal justice system.

This issue is compounded for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are not only over-represented in the criminal justice system, but also experience 2-3 times higher rates of brain injury than the wider Australian population.

Our Position

In order to better respond to the psychological and physical needs of people in contact with the criminal justice system, and break cycles of re-offending, the system must recognise and respond to the congruence of brain injury and criminal offending.

At a practical level, that means:

  • Developing intake processes which uniformly screen for cognitive impairment.
  • Enabling the delivery of treatments and therapies within the prison environment.
  • Developing brain injury appropriate discharge processes which support successful transition back into the community.
  • Improving education for professionals in law and criminal justice on the indicators and consequences of brain injury.

Related Projects

The Guddi Way

The Guddi Way

The Guddi Way Screen is a culturally appropriate screening process to identify brain injury and complex disability. Once a brain injury has been identified, it may enable a pathway to appropriate support via the NDIS. For some people, this may the first time in their lives that a brain injury has been identified and that they have the opportunity to receive support.

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Murri Court

Murri Court Pilot Project

In 2018-2019 Synapse partnered with the Brisbane Murri Court to complete a pilot project in response to the need for culturally safe screening for brain injury and complex disability in the Murri Court system.

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Women Exiting the Corrections System

Women Exiting the Corrections System

In 2018 Synapse partnered with the NSW Department of Justice and Guthrie House, a not-for-profit transitional service for women exiting the prison system, to support women who may have a brain injury.

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Artwork by Aunty Lauraine Barlow

Assessing the Disability Needs of Indigenous Prisoners

Synapse is working with Griffith University to review the processes for assessing the disability needs of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander prisoners.

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Related Services

Two women sitting at table

Assessment & Planning

Practical assessments to identify how a brain injury is affecting your daily life and planning to ensure appropriate support.

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Woman sitting at table

Direct Support

Tailored personal support across aspects of daily living, enabling you or someone you support to participate in desired community, vocational and educational activities.

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Housing Options

Information and practical housing support options to help you or someone you support live in the home and community of their choice.

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Man being helped to slice by support worker, while another looks on

NDIS Services

Registered NDIS pre-planning, support coordination and specialised services to ensure you, or the person you are caring for, get the most suitable support.

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Training & Education

Unique, specialised training to help you and your team better understand the needs of people impacted by brain injury.

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