Kymberly Martin

DRC hearing to examine ‘criminalisation of disability’

The Disability Royal Commission will examine the detention and overrepresentation of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system at its next public hearing from February 16-25. 2021.


The hearing will consider the need for the provision of proper supports to people with disability.  

“Research suggests that imprisonment rates for people with cognitive disability, especially First Nations people, are far higher than for the general population,” Commission chair Ronald Sackville said.

The hearing is likely to challenge widely held preconceptions in the community as to the causes of crime, the composition of the prison population and the best ways of promoting community safety.


The hearing will explore whether there are more effective approaches to crime prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders than the ‘criminalisation of disability’. The hearing will also hear the experiences of people with extremely complex needs who have been detained indefinitely without necessarily having being convicted of an offence, for example because of unfitness to plead.

The hearing will examine a range of issues, including:

  • Factors contributing to first encounters of people with cognitive disability with the criminal justice system
  • Factors which can contribute to people with cognitive disability cycling in and out of the criminal justice system
  • How the criminal justice system can criminalise disability
  • The overrepresentation of First Nations people with cognitive impairment within the criminal justice system, and factors which may contribute to this 
  • The long term or indefinite detention of people with cognitive impairment under forensic custody orders  
  • The impact that diversion programs and the provision of appropriate supports for people with disability can have in reducing contact with the criminal justice system and in moving away from the criminalisation of disability.

The hearing will be closed to the public because of Covid-19, but will be live-streamed on the Royal Commission website. Go to: