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‘I feel like I failed him by ringing the police’: Criminalising disability in Australia

R. McCausland, E. Baldry,

Academic Literature


The stigmatisation, control, criminalisation and incarceration of people with disability have a long history. While in recent decades there has been increasing commitment to the rights of people with disabilities by governments in western nations, the over-representation of people with mental and cognitive disability in criminal justice systems has continued. Although there are similarities amongst Western jurisdictions in regard to the treatment of people with disability in justice systems, there are particularities in Australia that will be drawn out in this article. We argue that disadvantaged people with mental and cognitive disability are being managed by and entrenched in criminal justice systems across Australia’s six states and two territories, including so-called diversionary and therapeutic measures that appear to accommodate their disability. In the absence of early and appropriate diagnosis, intervention and support in the community, some disadvantaged and poor persons with mental and cognitive disability, in particular Indigenous Australians, are being systematically criminalised. Criminal justice agencies and especially youth and adult prisons have become normalised as places of disability management and control. Drawing on research that focuses in detail on the jurisdictions of the Northern Territory and New South Wales, we argue for a reconstruction of the understanding of and response to people with these disabilities in the criminal justice system. © 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.

Publication information

Journal/Publication : Punishment and Society

Domain/s: Education

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