Calls to develop a justice strategy for people with intellectual disabilities

20 June 2014

Critical thinkers and leading advocates have joined together in calls for the development of a Queensland disability strategy at Endeavour Foundation’s Criminal Justice Symposium.

The two-day symposium, attended experts in public advocacy, disability rights, discrimination and the law from throughout Australia, have spent the last two days exploring critical gaps in Queensland’s legal code, impacting on the lives of people with a disability.

Endeavour Foundation Community and Advocacy Support Unit manager, Mark Reimers, said people with an intellectual disability and those with impaired capacity, both vicitms and offenders, are significantly overrepresented in the justice system.

"We support the calls for a disability justice strategy in Queensland and for all jurisdictions to comply with the UN Human Rights Convention on People with a Disability. Something that’s long overdue since Australia became signatories to the convention,” Mr Reimers said.

“In particular, people with a disability - and especially people with intellectual disability or cognitive impairment - are overrepresented in the Queensland criminal justice system. This is a poor outcome both for people with a disability and for the criminal justice system. Filling up our jails with people who have a disability is just not smart.

“We know that people can be treated unfairly in the criminal justice system because of their disability. It's time for us to look at ways to ensure rights are protected in the justice system, particularly for people with intellectual impairment.”

Endeavour Foundation has joined with the Office of Public Advocate, Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, Griffith University, La Trobe University, QUT and the National Disability Service Queensland (NDS) to stage the Symposium.

Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissior Kevin Cocks, today told symposium participants, there was a challenge to dismantle the barriers, for people with intellectual disabilities to be treated equally before the law and have equal access to justice.

“To give effect to these noble ambitions Queensland must develop a disability justice strategy,” Mr Cocks said. 

“From the global arena through the national sphere to the state level, there is recognition of the systemic challenges that exist; and of the disabling effect they can have.

“Of equal importance is the recognition that the community has a positive obligation to enable people, rather than just maintain a polite, non-discriminatory, distance; to see the person before homogenising the impairment.

“By applying the global human rights approach to strategies in your local community, you are helping to challenge – and perhaps dismantle - those disabling structures.”

Symposium keynote speaker, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes, agreed the case for change was clear.

“Australians who need communications supports, or who have complex and multiple support needs, are not having their rights protected, and are not being treated equally, in the criminal justice system. This must change,” Mr Innes said.

“Not only is there a human rights imperative to ensure equality before the law, there is also a strong economic imperative.

“Cost-benefit analyses indicate significant savings for governments when support is provided early, and diversion options from the criminal justice system are available.

“For every dollar spent on diversion between $1.40 and $2.40 in government costs is saved – big money when the Australian community spends $11.7 billion annually on the criminal justice system.” 

For more information about the Criminal Justice Symposium visit https://symposium.endeavour.com.au/

Endeavour Foundation is an independent not-for-profit organisation supporting people with a disability in accommodation, education, training, vocational and lifestyle opportunities. Find out more at endeavour.com.au.

 

Contact: Kirrily Boulton, Media & Communications Manager, Mobile 0429 077886,

email k.boulton@endeavour.com.au