Kymberly Martin
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New website for grappling with criminal justice system

In an Australian first, a new website has been launched to support people with autism spectrum disorder, cognitive impairment, intellectual disability and dual disability who are in the criminal justice system.

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The website supportingjustice.net is focused on attaining fairer outcomes and needs-based support. It was developed in partnership with design firm Paper Giant and builds on the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) and Jesuit Social Services’ 2017 Enabling Justice project. This project found that fragmented and inconsistent responses throughout the criminal justice system and broader environment mean that the needs of people with disability are rarely recognised or responded to appropriately.

RMIT University and CIJ senior advisor, Michael Haralambous (pictured) said, “Research performed in 2011 by the Department of Justice in Victoria estimated that 42 per cent of males and 33 per cent of females in custody in Victoria at the time had an acquired brain injury. A lot of studies since then have recognised a huge overrepresentation of people with cognitive disability in custody.”

Haralambous said the new website is in part a response to the work performed then. “Prior to starting work on the site, the CIJ spoke with people who had acquired brain injuries who had been to jail. We worked with them to understand their experiences of the justice system. Their key messages were that they were not recognised, they felt unsupported and were not respected. We tried to create a resource that would respond to the needs of these people to make sure that when they move through the criminal justice system, they received appropriate support and are treated with respect.”

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As part of its work in developing the site, the CIJ has created two sets of communication guides for people working in the system, one for lawyers, judicial officers and court professionals and the other for support workers, carers and people with disability.

Other resources available on the site include information on services and programs including legal services, disability support services, housing providers and the NDIS, a form for supporters and carers to complete with a person with disability to ensure they are prepared for court and a workshop kit for use in training and workshops.

The resources are designed to assist everyone involved so people with cognitive disability can be empowered to ask that their needs be met right at the start of the process, Haralambous said. “The recommendations include avoiding the use of jargon, using plain English and interacting respectfully.”

Also involved in providing input to the website were people with acquired brain injury and lived experience of the criminal justice system, lawyers, judicial officers, support workers, health practitioner and Aboriginal community organisations.

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