Skip to main content


Programs and services that assist people with disability in the criminal justice system

Disability Disability Rights
Monday 3 March, 2014

Updated March 2014



The Australian Human Rights Commission launched its report, Equal before the law: Towards disability justice strategies on 5 February 2014. The Report identifies a range of problems that exist in the criminal justice system which result in people with disabilities not enjoying equality before the law. The Report also contains  examples of programs and services that assist people with disabilities in the criminal justice system.

In early March 2014 we put a call out for people to submit examples of programs and services that assist people with disability in the criminal justice system. Our aim is to facilitate the process of information sharing between different jurisdictions with the hope of encouraging states and territories to develop an holistic, over-arching Disability Justice Strategy.

Programs and services – Police

After Hours Bail Support Service, ACT Community Services Directorate (ACT) This service provides advice and assistance to police and young people at risk of being remanded in custody.
Custodial Medical Officers and Custodial Nurses, Victoria Police (VIC) Victoria Police employ Custodial Medical Officers and Custodial Nurses to assess the physical and mental health of people detained in police cells.
Forensic Medical Officers, Victoria Police (VIC) Victorian Police employ Forensic Medical Officers to provide clinical advice on whether a person is fit for interview, fit for charging or fit to plead in court.
Independent Third Persons, Office of the Public Advocate, Victoria (VIC) Independent Third Persons are volunteers who assist people with a cognitive disability or mental illness during interviews, or when giving formal statements to Victoria Police.
Mental Health Intervention Project,  Queensland Police, Health and Ambulance (QLD) This is a collaboration project between Queensland Police, Health and Ambulance services. Coordinators from these 3 agencies regularly meet to identify mental health issues in the local area, discuss complex cases and develop preventative interventions. 
Mental Health Intervention Team, NSW Police (NSW) The Mental Health Intervention Team consists of a clinical team that provide education to police to identify mental health, strategies to communicate with people with psychiatric disabilities, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques. 
Mental health training for NSW Police (NSW) Compulsory mental health training has been introduced for NSW police working on the frontline.
Protocol for Mental Health, Department of Health, Victoria and Victoria Police (VIC) Interagency protocol provides guidance to police and clinicians on their respective roles and responsibilities when working together to respond to the needs of people with mental illness. 
SupportLink, Queensland Police (QLD) SupportLink is an initiative by Queensland Police which provides an online portal, where police can refer a person with disability to over 200 registered support service agencies for domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, crime prevention, elder abuse and neglect, victim support and counselling and trauma support.
Visual Audio Recorded Evidence (VARE), Department of Human Services, Victoria (VIC) The Visual Audio Recorded Evidence outlines the legislative procedures and practice requirements regarding visual and audio recorded evidence.  This type of evidence can only be given where the person is under 18 years and has suffered physical or sexual harm or is a person with a cognitive impairment.
Western Australia Police Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2013 – 2017, WA Police- Community Engagement Division (WA) Western Australia Police have developed the 2013 – 2017 Disability Access and Inclusion Plan (DAIP) to ensure that victims, offenders and the broader community are provided with inclusive service in accordance with the Western Australian Disability Services Act 1993 (WA).


Programs and services – Courts

Assessment and Referral Court List, Melbourne Magistrates’ Court (VIC) The Assessment and Referral Court List is a specialist court list designed to meet the needs of accused persons who have a mental illness and/or a cognitive impairment.
Court Integrated Services Program (VIC) The Court Integrated Services Program aims to provide the person with disability appearing before court with a variety of services and supports such as social welfare, mental health, housing services and drug treatment.
Court Network, Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General (QLD) Court Network is a service providing information, support and referral services to court users. Volunteers support victims of crime, people accused of crime, people who require support in the court, adults and children who have been violated or exploited by crime and litigants who have little or no support in the court system.
Court Referral of Eligible Defendants into Treatment, NSW Local Courts (NSW) This program targets adult defendants at the Local Court who want to address underlying issues related to their offending behaviour. Those identified as at risk of re-offending undergo case management and are referred to educational, training, treatment or social welfare services.
CREDIT Bail Support Program, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (VIC) The CREDIT/Bail Support Program seeks to increase the likelihood of a defendant being granted bail and successfully completing a bail period.
Diversions List, Magistrate's Court of Tasmania (TAS) The Diversion List is a specialist court list targeting defendants with mental illness/impaired intellectual functioning. It operates with dedicated Magistrates in the Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie registries of the Magistrates Court and enables Magistrates to deliver a more therapeutic response to defendants whose offending behaviour is connected to mental health issues, cognitive disability, or acquired brain injury.
Duty Lawyer Handbook, Legal Aid Queensland (QLD) Legal Aid Queensland’s Duty Lawyer Handbook provides guidance to duty lawyers on dealing with criminal law clients who have, or may have, an intellectual or cognitive disability.
Equal Treatment Benchbook (various jurisdictions) A number of states, including Queensland and Western Australia have an equal treatment benchbook which provide practical information for judges about trial management, supports and aids and useful contacts to support people with disability in court.
Family Violence Applicant Support Workers, Department of Justice, Victoria (VIC) Applicant Support Workers are social workers in Victoria’s Specialist Family Violence Magistrates Court who prioritise working with women with disabilities to assist them in applying for an intervention order.
Intellectual Disability Diversion Program, Perth Magistrates’ Court (WA) The Intellectual Disability Diversion Program is a court diversion program which operates in the Perth Magistrates’ Court. It offers personalised case management and support for adults with a cognitive or intellectual disability who plead guilty.
Justice Support Program, Disability Advocacy and Information Service (VIC) The Justice Support Program offers court support to people with any type of disability in certain local government areas.
Justice Support Program, Queensland Advocacy Organisation, (QLD) The Justice Support Program (JSP) provides non-legal advocacy for people with a disability who are involved in the criminal justice system. The Advocates help the person to access available legal services, however the focus is on advocating for the person to access the community supports that will help to prevent the problem re-occurring.
Life on Track, NSW Local Courts (NSW) Life on Track is a case management service that will tailor personalized plans for people with disability appearing in court and link them to appropriate supports and services in the community.
Magistrates’ Court Diversion Program (SA) The Magistrates Court Diversion program targets adults who have an intellectual or psychiatric disability. The program provides an opportunity for eligible individuals to voluntarily address their mental health, disability needs and any offending behaviours while legal proceedings are adjourned.
Magistrate’s Early Referral into Treatment, NSW Local Courts (NSW) This program is available in the Local Court to give adult defendants with drug or alcohol problems the opportunity to undertake a voluntary rehabilitation program as part of the bail process.
Mental Health Court Liaison Service (VIC) The Mental Health Court Liaison Service is a court-based assessment and advice service.
Mental Health Court Diversion and Support Program, Perth Magistrates Court and the Perth Children’s Court (WA) This program employs mental health specialist teams in the court to provide assessments, liaison with community services and develop individualised plans to support people with a psychiatric disability in the criminal justice system.
Mental Health Diversion List, Tasmanian Magistrates’ Court (TAS) This list is open to defendants who have impaired intellectual or mental functioning as a result of a mental illness charged with summary offences.
Mental Health Unit, Legal Aid Queensland (QLD) The Mental Health Unit provides advice and representation to persons who may be unfit to plead, or unfit to stand trial, or who may have a defence to a criminal charge arising from an intellectual or cognitive disability or mental impairment.
Neighbourhood Justice Centre (VIC) The Neighbourhood Justice Centre is Australia’s only community court. A number of different courts sit within the centre along with a “one stop shop” of community services. 
Sydney Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Redfern Legal Centre The Sydney Women's Domestic Violence Court assists women & children to obtain protection of domestic violence court orders, makes referrals to appropriate services, including legal services, works with domestic violence duty solicitor at court and assists female defendants in certain circumstances (eg, vulnerable clients, or client identyifing as primary victim).
Treatment Intervention Program, South Australian Magistrates’ Court (SA) This program operates in the South Australian Magistrates’ Court and is an integrated intervention program for defendants with a psychiatric disability and/or substance dependence.
Youth on Track, NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice (NSW) Youth on Track, an early intervention program with an holistic approach identifies and responds young people at risk of criminal offence or who may already be in the criminal justice system.


Programs and services – Custodial Settings

Aboriginal Visitors Scheme (WA) This is an independent prison visitor scheme where an Aboriginal volunteer is appointed to monitor the treatment of Aboriginal people held in custody and police lock ups. They offer basic counselling and will inform the Officer in Charge of any urgent medical needs. 
Acquired Brain Injury Program, Corrections Victoria  (VIC) An acquired brain injury clinician conducts screenings to identify offenders with an acquired brain injury.
ACSO (VIC) ACSO provide pre and/or post-release support to people in prison with cognitive impairments.  This includes employment assistance for people leaving prison.
Community Integration Team, NSW Justice Health (NSW) The Community Integration team provides pre and post-release care to recently released juveniles, many of whom are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles with serious psychiatric disabilities.
Community Justice Program, NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (NSW) This program has a focus on the provision of accommodation, case management and behaviour support for young people and adults with an intellectual disability exiting correctional centres. This includes support for people on remand or bail conditions.
Community Treatment Team, Corrections Victoria (VIC) The Community Treatment program provides statewide treatment and support for offenders with a disability on post-sentence regimes.
Disability Pathways Program Corrections Victoria (VIC) A specialist prison clinical team delivers offence-specific (violence and sex offending) and offence-related programs for people with disability.
Governor’s Disciplinary Hearing program, Corrections Victoria (VIC) This program provides independent support to ensure that all prisoners with a disability understand the process if they are required to appear at a Governor’s Disciplinary Hearing.
Inclusion Sexual Offending Program, Queensland Corrective Services (QLD) This service provides a sexual offending treatment intervention program for offenders with a cognitive impairment or low intellectual functioning.
Inside Access, Mental Health Legal Centre Inc (VIC) Inside Access assists mentally ill prisoners make the transition to community through the delivery of a complementary framework of community legal education, civil law assistance (casework) as well as law, policy and practice reform activities.
Legal and Social Awareness Program, Department of Corrective Services, Western Australia (WA) The Department of Corrective Services Western Australia has developed a legal and social awareness program for prisoners with an intellectual disability.
Mentoring program,  Corrections Victoria (VIC) A mentoring program has been developed at Loddon and Port Phillip Prisons in Victoria. The Disability Pathways Program team conduct a formal recruitment and selection process, ongoing training and regular supervision to ensure suitable prisoners are selected and supported in the mentoring role.
Multiple and Complex Needs Initiative, Corrections Victoria (VIC) This program provides support to people with multiple and highly complex disabilities in the community and in prison.
Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services (WA) The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services is an independent statutory body that answers directly to Parliament and provides external scrutiny of custodial services and thematic reviews of prison related issues in Western Australia. 
Prisoner Employment Programs - Sentenced to a Job, Department of Correctional Services Northern Territory (NT) The Sentenced to a Job program is a trial running in the Northern Territory where prisoners are sent to work in real jobs in the local community for award wages. The program is only available for prisoners who have been classified low security. Sex offenders are not eligible. 
Sex Offenders Treatment Program, Department of Corrective Services, Western Australia (WA) The Department of Corrective Services in Western Australia has developed a Sex Offenders Treatment program designed for prisoners with an intellectual disability.
Sexual Behaviour Clinic-me, Department for Correctional Services South Australia (SA) The Sexual Behaviour Clinic – me program is a psychotherapeutic treatment program for adult male sexual offenders with a mild to borderline level of intellectual functioning.
Supported Prison Pathway, Corrections Victoria (VIC) This program provides a supported prison pathway for prisoners with a cognitive impairment through maximum, medium and minimum security.
Throughcare Unit, ACT Corrective Services (ACT) The Throughcare Unit is a targeted transitional project designed to break the cycle of reoffending for sentenced detainees released from the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
Trial school within Parkville Juvenile Detention Centre – Victorian Department of Human Services (VIC) The Victorian Government is operating a school within a juvenile detention centre, based on a ground-breaking initiative in the United States. The curriculum is designed to ensure that it does not alienate children with language impairments.


Programs and services – General

Adolescent Forensic Mental Health Service, Queensland Health (QLD) North Queensland Adolescent Forensic Mental Health Service provides a range of services to support young people who are involved with the Juvenile Justice System or who are "at risk" of such involvement, to access mental health and Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (ATODS) treatment services.
Advocacy and Support Centre, Toowoomba (QLD) The Advocacy and Support Centre are a community legal centre that provide legal representation, advice and support to disadvantaged people that have a brain injury, psychiatric or intellectual disability.
Advocacy Tasmania (TAS) Advocacy Tasmania provides advocacy services for people with disability in Tasmania. 
Anne McDonald Centre (VIC) The Anne McDonald Centre provides assessment and therapy for people with little or no functional speech.
Australian Centre for Disability Law (NSW) The Australian Centre for Disability Law advises and represents clients on matters concerning disability discrimination and broader human rights matters. 
Brain Injury Association of Tasmania (TAS) The Brain Injury Association of Tasmania can provide an identification card to people with an acquired brain injury and/or epilepsy. The ID card includes personal details, a nominated contact number and information about the person’s disability for police. The program is run in partnership with Tasmania Police. 
Centre for Excellence in Positive Behaviour Support, Queensland (QLD) The Centre was one of the recommendations which arose from the Carter reporter into Challenging Behaviour. The Centre develops best practice research into the use of positive behaviour to improve the lives of people with intellectual disability who exhibit challenging behaviours. 
Child Witness Service, Western Australian Department of the Attorney General (WA) The Child Witness Service provides senior psychiatrists and social workers who are trained in assessing the needs of child witnesses including children with disability. They are currently working to formulate appropriate protocols and criteria for the use of child communicators.
Communication Rights Australia (VIC) Communication Rights Australia is an advocacy and information service for people with little or no speech.
Community Living Program, Community Living Association (QLD) The Community Living Association oversees a wide range of programs developed to assist particularly young people with an intellectual and/or other cognitive disability and mental illness.  Holistic support services include court support, communication with police and responding to victimisation.
Criminal Justice Support Network, Intellectual Disability Rights Service (NSW) The Intellectual Disability Rights Service operates the Criminal Justice Support Network which provides trained volunteers to people with intellectual disability when they come into contact with the criminal justice system, particularly at the police station and at court. 
Deaf Services Queensland (QLD) Deaf Services Queensland offer services and programs to people who are deaf or hearing impaired including: interpreting and translations, community services (referral and advocacy) and employment services.  They also provide Deafness Awareness Training for professionals, public servants, service providers and health providers to improve understanding of how access for Deaf people can be improved.
Disability Advocacy NSW, ADVOCACY Law Alliance Inc (NSW) Disability Advocacy NSW provides advocacy for people with a disability in Hunter, Mid North Coast & New England regions of New South Wales.
Disability and Family Violence Crisis Response Initiative, Victorian Department of Human Services (VIC) This initiative provides immediate support for women with disabilities to access crisis accommodation. Short term funds can be provided to a maximum of $9000 while the woman and her family violence worker develop a longer term plan for housing and supports. 
Disability Justice Plan, South Australian Attorney-General’s Department (SA) South Australia has developed a draft Disability Justice Plan which provides a holistic and coordinated response to overcoming the many barriers that people with disability face in accessing justice.
Draft Supporting vulnerable witnesses in the giving of evidence: Guidelines for securing best evidence, South Australian Attorney-General’s Department (SA) These guidelines have been designed for investigative interviewers and practitioners working with vulnerable victims with the aim of obtaining the best evidence.
Enforcement Review Program, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (VIC) The Enforcement Review Program assists members of the community who have ‘special circumstances’ and outstanding fines registered at the Infringements Court. The Program enables the Court to impose outcomes that reflect the circumstances of the offending.
Exceptional Needs Unit, South Australia Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (SA) This unit provides assessment services, accommodation, review of cases and reporting of service gaps for people with complex needs. 
Headspace (various states) Headspace provides young offenders with access to mental health professionals, drug and alcohol treatment and GP's etc.
Headwest Advocacy, Brain Injury Association of WA Inc (WA) Headwest provides an advocacy service to support individuals living with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) or acquired disabilities.  This service includes advocacy when legal assistance is needed.
Homeless Personsʼ Legal Service (VIC) The Homeless Persons’ Legal Service is specialist legal service that provides free legal assistance and advocacy for people who are homeless and charged with minor criminal offences.
Interagency Guideline for Addressing Violence, Neglect and Abuse (IGUANA), Office of the Public Advocate Victoria (VIC) The IGUANA guidelines outlines the steps that an organization needs to take if violence or abuse of a person with disability is reported.
Integrated Services Program for Clients with Challenging Behaviour, NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care (NSW) The ISP coordinates cross-agency responses for adults with complex needs and challenging behaviour. The program includes assessment services, behaviour and therapeutic intervention and supported accommodation.
Jaanimili, UnitingCare (NSW) Jaanimili operates a number of Aboriginal-specific programs for people with disabilities including early start programs and in-home support to assist Aboriginal families at risk of relinquishing the care of their child with a disability.
Making Rights Real Project, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) and South Eastern Centre against Sexual Assault (VIC) The project is a pilot program in South Eastern Melbourne to improve access to justice for sexual assault victims with a cognitive impairment or communication difficulties. They provide a range of holistic services and legal assistance to victims for compensation appearing before the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. 
Mental Health Law Centre Inc (WA) Specialized community legal centre that provides free mental health law advice to people with psychiatric disabilities in Western Australia. 
Mental Health Legal Service, Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QLD) Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) provides legal and support services for people with intellectual disability, cognitive impairment, mental illness or profound physical disability.
Multiple and Complex Needs Initiative, Victorian Department of Human Services (VIC) The Multiple and Complex Needs Initiative provides case-management and coordination of services such as housing, health and family supports for people with multiple disabilities and complex needs.
North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NT) The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency provides culturally proficient Aboriginal legal services to the Top End of the Northern Territory. 
Office of the Senior Practitioner (VIC) The Office of the Senior Practitioner is responsible for ensuring that the rights of people who are subject to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment are protected and that appropriate standards are complied with in relation to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment.
Queensland Criminal Justice Centre (QLD) The Queensland Criminal Justice Centre is a web based resource for lawyers working with people with disability who come in contact with QLD criminal justice system. 
Queensland Health Victim Support Services, Queensland Health (QLD) This service provides free information, counselling and support to victims of mentally ill offenders who are diverted to the forensic mental health system from the criminal justice system.
Rights in Action (QLD) Rights in Action provide independent advocacy support for people with disabilities in vulnerable situations.
Safe at Home Program (TAS) This program provides therapeutic support and case management for individuals with a disability affected by domestic violence. 
Safety House (WA) Safety House WA provides houses in communities across WA where children can go when it is not safe for them to be at home. 
Scope Ltd (VIC) Scope is a not-for-profit organisation providing disability services in Victoria. The organisation provides accessible information services including Easy English resources. These resources assist other organisations to develop Easy English information. See NSW Police as an example. 
Services Connect, Department of Human Services (VIC) One-stop shop which brings all the human service such as child protection, public housing, disability and family violence services under a single integrated plan. 
Sisters Inside Inc. (QLD) Sisters Inside Inc. is a community organisation that advocates for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system. The organisation works with women in prison to address gaps in the services available to them. 
Statewide Behaviour Intervention Service, NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care (NSW) The Statewide Behaviour Intervention Service is a specialist, statewide clinical service which provides research, training and clinical consultation to service providers working with people with intellectual disability.
Strongbala (NT) This is a program which provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men with culturally appropriate support including clinical services, health education such as domestic violence education advice and employment opportunities. 
Victims of Crime Website, Victorian Department of Justice (VIC) The Victorian Department of Justice provides a website containing easy-English information for people with disability who are victims of crime. 
Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc (VIC) Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service provides advice and referrals on disability related legal issues. The service is predominantly provided for people who have an intellectually disability.
Witness Assistance Service, Northern Territory Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (NT) This service provides support, court preparation assistance, information about the criminal justice system, provision of interpreters, referrals to counselling, legal assistance and assistance with preparing Victim Impact Statements. 
Work and Development Order, Office of State Revenue (NSW) People with a psychiatric or intellectual disability that are homeless can pay their fines through unpaid work with an approved organization as an alternative to jail.
WWILD Sexual Violence Prevention Association Inc. (QLD) This service provides counselling, case management and information, advice and referral to women and men with intellectual disabilities who have been victims of crime or exploitation, as well as their families, workers and supporters. They also provide professional development and training to service organisations across Queensland.
Young People with Exceptionally Complex Needs Program, Western Australia Mental Health Commission (WA) The project coordinates service delivery between government and non-government agencies for young people with complex and multiple disabilities.