Disability in the Criminal Justice System


This presentation is a wake-up call to address correctional processes that focus on intellectually disabled juvenile offenders. The submission is aimed to end the inadequacies of the current legislation that guides the correcting and rehabilitation of young offenders through the criminal justice system. As it stands, the current approach is more curative than preventive since it focuses much on rehabilitating and punishment. Hence, it is inadequate since it has not laid out ways through which young people can be helped before they can commit their first crime (Bates 2001). However, the suggested policy will give the at-risk young people room to be helped before they can commit a crime. This call is further informed by the fact that many offenders have one or more mental health issues. The suggested preventive legislation calls for a focus on addressing the underlying factors that lead to criminal activities, especially mental health. Currently, more than 70% of incarcerated youths have one or more underlying mental health conditions while 20% of them have severe mental health disorders (Capobianco & Shaw 2003). Therefore, these mental health challenges are some of the main catalysts for criminal behavior in this group. However, something can be done to assist the victims of mental disorders by addressing their risk factors, specifically their mental disorders, which will mean that they may not change their behavior to engage in criminal actions. In addition, when youths rejoin society after serving their terms, they are often discriminated against for their mental conditions in addition to the prejudice for being former detainees and hence their likelihood of going back to drug abuse and criminality. The proposed approach is preventive. It will ensure that youths who are at risk of committing crimes get the much-needed help and attention to reduce their interaction with the criminal justice. This reform is not only good for their lives, but also for the society.

Call for Change in the Juvenile Justice System

In the last few years, there has been an increasing concern about the effectiveness of the current legislation based on the way it addresses crime among the youths. The current legislation is increasingly being criticized for its focus on crimes that juveniles are jailed for committing (Hayes 2005). However, this approach has failed as evidenced by the ever-growing number of crimes among youths, as well as the increasing rates of recidivism. The suggested policy will focus on protecting youths from committing crimes. Hence, there will be no need for them to be involved with the criminal justice system. It is evident that more than 70% of youths who are involved in criminal activities frequently have one or more underlying mental health problems. The situation makes their needs more complex to address (Richards 2011). Therefore, there is a need for an awakening call for legislation not only to address crimes that have already occurred but also to address the underlying factors that have fuelled such crimes.

It is important to note that the mental healthcare needs of youths are very crucial in ensuring that they live their lives well while avoiding any actions that may lead to their involvement with the criminal justice system (Grisso 2007). Despite the obvious need for more efforts to be focused on mental health in young people, insignificant efforts have been put towards implementing the appropriate measures through legislation in terms of coming up with approaches that not only address the crimes but most importantly, the healthcare needs of the youths (Bates 2001). By continuing to use the current approaches where youths are imprisoned for their crimes or taken to rehabilitation centers where they come out even more mentally disturbed, the situation will be a vicious cycle that Australia will not handle. For instance, there is a very high rate of recidivism in former juvenile convicts who have mental health disorders. According to Grisso (2007), approximately 50% of incarcerated youths have been previously detained or remanded for wrongdoing. Are there any interventions that can be done? The answer is yes. Something can be done. Their vulnerability can be identified. Hence, they can receive help and protection from becoming convicts in the first place. This submission calls for a change where proactive legislation can be implemented to guide the identification, treatment, or offering of any other help to at-risk youths before their behavior escalates.

Changes in the Current Legislation

This section provides important guidelines for coming up with the legislation that focuses on preventing criminal behaviour in young people who have mental health problems. Firstly, it is important to recognise that the situation where many juvenile offenders have underlying mental health problems. Such situations only indicate one thing: the failure of current institutions of mental health to address the issue in the society (AIHW 2013). However, it is too early to buy from this school of thought without understanding the various reasons why mental health facilities have failed (Capobianco & Shaw 2003). Is it because of funding? Is it because their roles are not well defined? Is it because their approaches are not responsive to the needs of young people who have mental problems? Such questions must be effectively answered since such institutions are central and crucial to the success of the process of addressing the mental challenges of the youths (Capobianco & Shaw 2003).

It is evident that the current legislation lacks a clear framework for identifying the role of mental health in this issue. The proposed policy will be better since it will recognise and advocate the use of alternative approaches that focus on addressing mental health in this group. Such approaches should not start after criminal actions have already been committed (Richards 2011). Rather, they should be geared towards preventing the issue. For instance, it is evident that most young people who have a criminal history have serious underlying social issues (Cunneen & White 2002). In Australia, native Aboriginal youths have higher cases of criminality as compared to other groups. Such incidents can be linked to poverty and other social factors that make such youths more vulnerable (Hayes 2005). To address such issues, legislation should go beyond the criminal justice system to focus on ways of preventing the social issues that increase criminality among the youths.

Steps such as the identification of youths who are at risk of committing crimes and/or helping them to come out of the risk factors are another important process to consider in the process of changing the current legislation that focuses on corrective and rehabilitative activities. The current legislation does not address the underlying factors of criminal behaviour. Therefore, many youths do not get the help that they need to assist them to avoid criminal behaviour until it is too late when they are already in the crime (Richards 2011). With a clear legislation that focuses on prevention, rather than curing, young people, especially those who have the above problem of intellectual disability should get the much-needed help to assist them to lead meaningful lives where they receive adequate attention by eliminating or the reducing risk factors (AIHW 2013). By focusing on prevention, the policy will offer an opportunity for vulnerable youths to avoid the criminal justice, which currently lacks adequate apparatus and processes of dealing with youths’ mental health needs. In any case, the prison system is very harsh. It only aggravates the mental health of the incarcerated individuals, thus making it difficult for them to cope once they are released. They opt to engage in crimes again (Cunneen & White 2002).

The Role of Various Stakeholders in the Legislation Process

One of the most critical things to put in mind is that coming up with such legislation cannot be left to one party. Therefore, it is important for the process to involve a wide array of stakeholders to come up with an effective and inclusive policy. Who are these stakeholders? Firstly, it is important to involve the local community organisations, which focus on youths. Secondly, it is important to involve local administrations, police departments, as well rehabilitation facilities in each community (Grisso 2007). Community involvement is of great importance for various reasons. Each community has its unique characteristics that require specific interventions that are unique to its situations. For instance, Aboriginal youths face issues such as poverty. It is only rational to involve its people in coming up with approaches to address such issues. Secondly, local administrations are very important since they are usually the first places of contact with the law among the youths (Hayes 2005). Authorities, including police officers, are important in helping to identify youths who are at risk such as those who try drugs and hence recommending the initiation of closer monitoring, counselling, or other activities that can prevent them from accelerating their criminality behaviours. Lastly, the involvement of rehabilitation facilities is very important. Such rehabilitation facilities need to be well equipped to offer guidance, counselling, and any other rehabilitation action for youths who have been identified as requiring such services (Richards 2011). To empower such facilities, funding that is focused on purchase of equipments, training, and recruitment of staff is of great importance. When local facilities are equipped, they can offer specific solutions to the problem. Without such approaches, the proposed legislation will not be effective. It will only act to add more problems to the already insurmountable situation, which needs a complete overhaul. Therefore, funding in this process is important for its success.


This submission is a call for action to change the current legislation that focuses on correction and rehabilitation of youths who have already engaged in criminal activities. The suggested legislation will be proactive in identifying youths who are at risk and providing them with the much-needed help by addressing the underlying mental health challenges, unlike the previous policy that targeted youths who were already in crime. The submission is a call to action with the realisation that by focusing on prevention, youths at risk will be identified and where applicable counselled and treated to make them lead normal lives as law-abiding citizens of Australia. To come up with the new legislation, the engagement of various stakeholders such as the local community, local administration, and rehabilitation facilities will be vital to address specific remedies for the unique problems that the Australian youths are facing.


AIHW 2013, Youth Justice in Australia 2012-2012: An Overview, Australian Government-Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Sydney.

Bates, M 2001, ‘The Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale: review and current status’, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 4 no. 1, pp. 63-84.

Capobianco, L & Shaw, M 2003, Crime Prevention and Indigenous Communities: Current International Strategies and Programmes, International Centre for Crime Prevention, Australia.

Cunneen, C & White, R 2002, Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Grisso, T 2007, ‘Progress and Perils in the Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Movements’, Journal of the American Academy pf Psychiatry and the Law, vol. 35 no. 2, pp. 158-167.

Hayes, S 2005, ‘A review of non-custodial interventions with offenders with intellectual disabilities’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 17 no. 1, pp. 71-72.

Richards, K 2011, What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? Australian Institute of Criminology, Sydney.

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