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First Nations leaders demand end to overrepresentation, indefinite detention and deaths in custody of First Peoples with disability in the criminal justice system

By September 19, 2022March 16th, 2023No Comments

With the public hearing commencing in Perth (Boorloo) today, First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) CEO Mr Damian Griffis has again called on the Royal Commission to establish a dedicated hearing into the overrepresentation and indefinite detention of First Nations people with disability in the criminal justice system.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned, with one third reporting a disability, 50% reporting a history of psychosocial disability, and 25-30% of prisoners having an intellectual disability.”

“The criminal justice system is underpinned by institutional racism and ableism, and this must be examined. We know that by the time a First Nations person has come into contact with the justice system, they are likely to have had a lifetime of their disability related needs having been unsupported.”

“This country must face the reality that First Peoples with disability are being ‘managed’ by police, courts, and prisons, instead of having access to critical community-based services.”

“This is not an issue the Royal Commission can choose to ignore,” said Mr Griffis.

Speaking to the conditions in detention First Peoples with disability regularly face, First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) Deputy CEO Ms June Riemer labelled them as “one of the most serious human rights related issues in Australia today.”

“Intake processes in detention are failing to properly screen First Nations people for disabilities, meaning First Peoples are not getting the disability related supports and health care they need inside. This includes access to NDIS services, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS),” said Ms Riemer.

“Instead of getting critical support, First Peoples with disability in detention are being punished.”

“It is especially egregious that First Peoples with cognitive impairment or psychosocial disability, including our young people in youth detention, are being indefinitely detained and subjected to restrictive practices like spit hoods and solitary confinement,” Ms Riemer said.

“Nearly half of all deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) have involved First Peoples who had a psychosocial or cognitive disability. The plight of First Peoples with disability in the criminal justice system must be exposed.”

FPDN emphasised that any investigation into the issue must be met by action.

“We urgently need comprehensive data about how many First Nations people with disability, including First Nations children, are in detention,” said Mr Griffis. “We also need immediate investment in disability advocacy supports, including First Nations disability advocates who specialise in justice matters.”

“That Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be imprisoned and killed because of their disability points to the injustice and pain First Nations people continue to experience. This crisis must be addressed.”


Media Contact

First Peoples Disability Network (Australia)

June Riemer


[email protected]