National Network advocates for NDIS access for people in prison

The National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women (National Network) is addressing the critical issue of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) access for people in prisons across the states and territories.

People in prison have historically been caught in the crosshairs of the ongoing tussle between state and federal governments over the funding of healthcare in prisons. Recently, there has been criticism aimed at state governments for improperly relying on the NDIS to evade their justice responsibilities, accompanied by calls for more stringent restrictions on NDIS access for individuals with disabilities who have criminal histories.

‘As a National Network representing formerly incarcerated individuals and as a body advocating for women and girls in prison, we remind the government that the right to access healthcare in this country is universal and should not depend on a person’s criminal record,’ said Tabitha Lean. ‘Moreover, a criminal record should not be a barrier to receiving necessary disability support,’ said Tabitha Lean.

Any changes imposing further restrictions on accessing the NDIS will have a significantly detrimental effect on people
in prison. Specifically, it will severely impact the 29% of individuals in mainstream prisons who have a chronic
condition or disability. This issue will also disproportionately affect First Nations people, with one in four First Nations individuals in custody having an intellectual disability. Additionally, research indicates that First Nations women in prison have higher rates of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial disabilities compared to non-Indigenous
female prisoners.

‘Governments across the country have an obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all citizens. Restricting universal access to healthcare for certain sections of the community is an abrogation of the Government’s duty of care,’ said Debbie Kilroy. ‘While state and federal governments debate responsibilities regarding prison health, those who need these vital services are missing out and are being harmed by the lack of support,’ said Debbie Kilroy.

‘Full access to the NDIS and community support is imperative for people in and exiting prison and other forensic detention units. This support is crucial for individuals to function inside prison and to enable them to live safely in the community upon release,’ said Debbie Kilroy.

Women entering prisons on remand and exiting on bail, parole, or immediate release often face critical gaps in the continuity of care. This issue is particularly severe for women with disabilities held on remand, who, on average, stay
for 3.9 months. This duration is typically insufficient for developing mental health plans or accessing Prison Mental Health services due to extended waiting times, as highlighted in the Sofronoff review.

‘Despite the establishment of Justice Liaison Officers and Justice Planning Teams, there is still a lack of focus on continuity of care. Women on remand are particularly affected, as they often do not receive referrals to Prison Mental Health services. Establishing vital linkages between external supports, Justice Liaison and Justice Planning Officers, and NDIS service providers is therefore critical,’ said Debbie Kilroy.

The National Network are advocating for independent coordinators in prisons, similar to Local Area Coordinators in the community, to ensure continuity of care from community to prison and back. Most NDIS Support Coordinators are unfamiliar with the prison system and struggle to maintain support for their participants.

‘The National Network will be in Canberra this month and has a scheduled meeting with government representatives. We welcome this opportunity to discuss how support and services through the NDIS could better support people in prison with disabilities, ensuring are supported inside and exit prison with care plans in place, thereby ensuring continuity of care and reducing re-criminalization,’ said Tabitha Lean.

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