Disability and imprisonment issues: Current & recent projects

Current Projects

2015-2017, Funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services, National Disability Research and Development Research Scheme, Unfitness to Plead and Indefinite Detention of Persons with Cognitive Impairments: Addressing the Legal Barriers and Creating Appropriate Alternative Supports in the Community, Chief Investigators: Bernadette McSherry and Anna Arstein-Kerslake (Melbourne Uni), Eileen Baldry (UNSW). 

This project will address the National Disability Strategy policy area of ‘Rights protection, justice, and legislation,’ which the Audit of Disability Research in Australia found as an area that is under-represented in disability research. It will address the issue of persons with cognitive impairments, particularly those from Indigenous backgrounds, who are being detained indefinitely in Australia without conviction. Existing research indicates that there are different legal and social structures in each state/territory that are resulting in this indefinite detention. Specifically, the research will address the lack of support structures that is leading to limited options for persons with cognitive impairments who are charged with a crime and found unfit to plead. With a combination of qualitative research and engagement with the community, the project will identify key barriers and create solutions. Supported decision-making has been widely discussed, both internationally and abroad, as the best practice in both rights protection and service provision for people with disabilities. This project will utilize the wealth of scholarly and practical knowledge that is available on supported decision-making and apply it to the criminal justice system in Australia. It will attempt to address the problem of unfitness to plead and indefinite detention at its source. It will try to prevent rulings of unfitness to plead through the use of supported decision-making procedures that will facilitate the individual’s interaction with the trial process. It will also attempt to provide sufficient support to those who are found unfit to plead to allow them to be as involved in the trial process as possible. This will provide a form of advocacy that respects the rights, will and preference of people with cognitive impairments, including indigenous people, in the criminal justice system. This project forms part of a proposed National Disability Research Collaboration.


2014 – 2017, Office of the Public Advocate grant, Enhancing the rights and well-being of people with acquired brain injuries in the criminal justice system. Co-Chief Investigators: A/Prof Gaye Lansdell, Faculty of Law, Monash University; Dr Bernadette Saunders, School of Social Work, Monash University; Dr Anna Eriksson, Criminology, Monash University.  

Completed Projects

2016, Monash University, Mental Impairment & Imprisonment: Identifying best practice support within and beyond the prison. Chief Investigators: Marie Segrave, Anna Ericsson & Claire Spivakovsky. This is a scoping project focused on reviewing service provision for imprisoned people and for those exiting prison & the integration of care and support for mental impairment, from the perspective of health and service providers in Victoria, Australia.


2010-2014, ARC Linkage Research Grant, Indigenous People with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System. Chief Investigators: Prof Eileen Baldry, Dr Leanne Dowse, A/Prof Julian Trollor, Professor Patrick Dodson (UNSW), Dr Devon Indig (Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice), POs Housing and ADHC (FaCS), Justice Health, Legal Aid. The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Indigenous Australians) with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities (MHDCD) in Australian criminal justice systems (CJS) is a matter of great importance to Government, policy makers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The IAMHDCD Project brings an Indigenous informed mixed method research approach to the study of this issue. Qualitative interviews afforded new and in depth understandings from an Indigenous perspective and inform the existing rich dataset (MHDCD Project Dataset). The MHDCD dataset comprises data on 2,731 persons who have been in prison from Police, Corrections, Justice Health and other health areas, Courts (BOSCAR), Juvenile Justice, Legal Aid, Disability, Housing and Community Services to allow a whole of life picture of institutional involvement. The dataset was used to investigate the pathways Indigenous Australians with MHDCD take into, around and through the Human Service (HS) and CJS and their experiences of the systems and system interactions.