The Aboriginal Assessment Project (AAP) aims to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody by assessing those suspected of cognitive impairment before they go to trial and sentencing.
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately 2% of the general population, they represent 27% of the prison population nationwide. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prison population has more than doubled over the past 15 years in NSW, though there was a corresponding drop in arrests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for serious crimes.1
The inability to present evidence to a court that a client has cognitive impairment, such as an acquired brain injury (ABI) due to a serious head injury or developmental disorder, increases the likelihood that a client will be given a custodial sentence rather than a referral to an appropriate rehabilitation or treatment program. Diversion from prison is unlikely to be considered if the person has not been formally assessed and diagnosed with cognitive impairment.
With the arrival of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), once a person with significant cognitive impairment is identified they and their family can receive support services. We hope to divert those assessed as having cognitive impairment from a custodial sentence to rehabilitation and support services in their own communities through the NDIS system.
The project will focus on clients in the New England and North Coast areas of NSW. We anticipate that the majority of the referrals will come from solicitors working for Aboriginal Legal Services and/or Legal Aid in these areas. Two experienced neuropsychologists will be travelling from Sydney to conduct the assessments.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia, 2015, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2015~Main%20Features~Key%20findings~1
Accessed: 14 November 2016