Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Transition from Prison for People with Intellectual Disability: A Qualitative Study of Service Professionals

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Transition from Prison for People with Intellectual Disability: A Qualitative Study of Service Professionals

Article excerpt

People with intellectual disability are over-represented in prisons internationally (Fazel et al. 2008); in Australia, approximately nine to 10 percent of soon-to-be-released prisoners have an intellectual disability (Dias et al. 2013). Prisoners with intellectual disability often experience complex comorbid chronic physical conditions and mental health disorders (Männynsalo et al. 2009; Dias et al. 2013; Dias et al. 2014). Substance misuse among prisoners with intellectual disability is also common, both prior to and during incarceration (Hassiotis et al. 2011; Bhandari et al. 2014). Prior research has shown prisoners with intellectual disability are more likely to use certain illicit drugs (Hassiotis et al. 2011). They are also more likely to risk substance-related harm through practices such as injecting drug use and sharing needles in prison than prisoners without intellectual disability (Bhandari et al. 2014).

Although little is known about the post-release circumstances of those with intellectual disability in Australia, many experience homelessness, unemployment and social isolation prior to their incarceration (Baldry, Dowse & Clarence 2012; Dias et al. 2013; Dias et al. 2014). Given their substantial health inequities social needs and elevated rates of reoffending, people with intellectual disability are likely to need targeted support during their transition from prison (Cockram 2005a; Ellem 2010).

Recidivism is a substantial issue for those with intellectual disability (Holland & Persson 2011; Riches et al. 2006). Victorian data suggest that ex-prisoners with intellectual disability return to prison at more than twice the rate of ex-prisoners without intellectual disability, with a similar time to reincarceration (Holland & Persson 2011). This may be because ex-prisoners with intellectual disability are younger and more likely to be unemployed and/or are subject to increased criminal justice system surveillance (Cockram 2005a; Cockram 2005b).

Prisoners with intellectual disability share similar needs, such as employment and social support, with their peers without disability; however, prior research has observed they have a significantly greater need for support to address homelessness and literacy after release from prison (Holland & Persson 2011). Providing effective support is complex; previous attempts to implement person-centred planning have yielded inconsistent results (Robertson et al. 2007).

The DSM-5 criteria for the diagnosis of intellectual disability have broadened in scope from earlier approaches that relied primarily on IQ scores (Schalock et al. 2010). They now incorporate three domains of intelligence-conceptual, social and practical-with an increased focus on functional capacity and the need for assistance (American Psychiatric Association 2013). However, individuals with mild or borderline intellectual disability often experience particular difficulties accessing disabilityspecific services because they are not recognised as experiencing sufficient disability to qualify for government-based financial support (Baldry et al. 2012).

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a billion-dollar Australian Government program that offers 'eligible people a flexible, whole-of-life approach to the support needed to pursue their goals and aspirations and participate in daily life' (National Disability Insurance Agency [NDIA] nd). The NDIS offers individualised funding packages; control over expenditure rests with the person (or their nominated decision-maker) rather than with a government department (NDIA nd). However, the eligibility of those involved in the criminal justice system for NDIS funding is yet to be clearly defined.

It is critically important, therefore, to understand how this group currently transitions from prison. This will contribute to an evidence base that can inform decisions about how the NDIS and service providers ensure those most vulnerable are not overlooked or excluded from the services they need. …

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