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        • » Indigenous Australians with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system (IAMHDCD) project

Indigenous Australians with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system (IAMHDCD) project



The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities (MHDCD) in Australian criminal justice systems (CJS) is a matter of utmost importance to Government, policy makers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This project brings an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander informed mixed method research approach to the study of this issue.

Qualitative interviews will afford new and in depth understandings from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective and new school education and welfare data will be merged with the existing dataset (MHDCD project dataset). The MHDCD dataset comprises data on 2,731 persons who have been in prison from Police, Corrections, Justice Health and other health areas, Courts (BOSCAR), Juvenile Justice, Legal Aid, Disability, Housing and Community Services to allow a whole of life picture of institutional involvement. The dataset will be used to investigate the pathways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with MHDCD take into, around and through the Human Service (HS) and CJS and their experiences of the systems and system interactions.

The aims of the IAMHDCD project are to:

Chief Investigators:

The Project's Chief Investigators are based at the University of New South Wales: Professor Eileen Baldry and Dr Leanne Dowse (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), Associate Professor Julian Trollor (Faculty of Medicine, School of Psychiatry), Professor Patrick Dodson (Director, Indigenous Policy and Dialogue Research Unit).

Partner Investigator:

The Project's Partner Investigator, Dr Devon Indig, is the Head of Research at the Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice (Justice Health NSW) and Conjoint Lecturer at UNSW.

Partner Organisations:

Partner Organisations in a Linkage project contribute both cash and in-kind resources and participate directly in the research process. The IAMHDCD Project partner organizations are: Justice Health; Housing NSW; Ageing, Disability and Home Care; and Legal Aid. The Department of Human Services and Juvenile Justice joined the project at the beginning of 2011 as a contributing research partner.

Cohort and dataset:

The cohort is not representative but purposive, drawn to investigate the pathways people with MHDCD in the CJS take in, out, through and returning to the system. It contains 676 Indigenous Australians. 86% of the Indigenous cohort is male, with the remaining 14% female. All but 9% of this Indigenous cohort has been identified as having MHDCD. A very large proportion of this group has complex needs (multiple diagnoses/disability); for example of those with mental health disorder 77% also have a history of substance abuse, with 36% of this group also having a cognitive disability.

New South Wales (NSW) focus:

The data is drawn only from NSW because the two data collections, the 2001 NSW Inmate health survey and the NSW State-wide Disability Services of Corrective Services client database, are the richest sources of a suitable cohort in Australia that can be linked to and merged with data from other HS and CJ agencies; and because NSW imprisons well over one-third of Australian prisoners and over one-quarter of Indigenous prisoners. The project will though, in the qualitative phase, work with Indigenous communities in NSW, Alice Springs (Northern Territory) and the Kimberley (Western Australia) adding an understanding of MHDCD in the CJS from Indigenous communities in these 2 other jurisdictions. Conversations with some leaders of these communities, facilitated by Indigenous members of the research team and advisory group, are already underway and meetings with community members to discuss their interest in, ownership of knowledge generated and benefit from participating in the project will be held over the coming year.

Abstract provided by Peta MacGillivray


Peta MacGillivray
Ph: (02) 2385 1196

To be added to the IAMHDCD project mailing list please send your details to:

Related publications

Baldry E, McCausland R, Dowse L, McEntyre E (2015)

A predictable and preventable path: Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system.

Sydney: University of New South Wales

This publication reports on the Indigenous Australians with mental health disorders and cognitive disability in the criminal justice system project. The project involved the development of an in-depth representation of the interactions of diagnoses, vulnerabilities, complex support needs and intensive interventions and how these integrate for Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system. The report provides detailed quantitative analysis of the 676 Indigenous men and women from New South Wales and the Northern Territory criminal justice systems who participated in the project. The report also includes the views of the community regarding systematic and social challenges, service failures, positive interventions and culturally responsive approaches and remedies.

Abstract adapted from authors


Last updated: 12 November 2015
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