How to support people with cognitive impairments in the criminal justice system?

Dr Laura Anderson

Join us for our free interactive webinar

Tuesday 25 August 2020 at 12.30 pm AEST

In our August webinar, our presenter is Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Laura Anderson.

Laura will provide us a brief overview of the current prevalence rates of cognitive impairment in the criminal justice system. She will also outline the current barriers to affective assessment of cognitive impairment and how this impacts on registered rates of impairment and subsequent service delivery.

Also included in the presentation is an overview of the functional impact of cognitive impairment for people in the criminal justice system. This includes consideration of accurate measurement or risk and adapting offender behaviour treatment to suit responsivity factors associated with cognitive impairment.

Laura will also discuss the implications of cognitive impairment on reintegration needs, with particular focus on NDIS pathways.

This is an interactive webinar with an opportunity for you to join the discussion and ask questions at the end of Laura’s presentation.

Link to register for the webinar here.

About Laura

Laura is a clinical neuropsychologist with a passion for understanding and advocating for a greater understanding of the cognitive functioning of individuals who engage with the criminal justice system.

She has worked within prison settings for many years and recently joined VACRO as the Specialist Disability Practitioner and Educator role, where she provides support and training to ReConnect case managers who support participants with various forms of disability.

Laura is also an Adjunct Research Fellow in Forensic Medicine – Monash University.

Laura has conducted research as well as worked clinically within the criminal justice system and has a strong understanding of the prevalence rates of cognitive impairment within the prison system, as well as the implications  that cognitive impairment has for assessment and management of recidivism risk, offender rehabilitation, reintegration pathways and the scope of service provision. She is an advocate for a system wide approach to developing a greater understanding of, and providing a response to, the barriers that cognitive impairment pose for individuals engaged with the criminal justice system.

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What are your experiences with post-release support services across Australia?

This is a guest blog by Gabrielle Schiavone-Delfino who is an Honours student supervised by Professor Andrew Day. Her study is focused on producing research that will be beneficial for formerly incarcerated people. She aims to do this by providing insights into what our After Prison Network members and contacts mean by ‘reintegration’, what sound reintegration support/service looks like, and the impact, if any, of gaps in reintegration support across Australia.

Gabrielle will do this through short Zoom meetings with anyone who is interested in contributing their own insights and experiences for her study. Her research results are expected to inform improvement in practice and the further development of the work of the After Prison Network nationally.

Hello! My name is Gabrielle and I’m a student completing my honours thesis in criminology at The University of Melbourne. I wanted to complete research that was centred around justice, reform and community that would support the hard work of others helping improve the lives of people experiencing challenging circumstances across Australia. I started looking closer at the challenges people exiting prison experience, the support services available to them after prison and looked for research opportunities that might benefit this community.

The After Prison Network’s work towards documenting systemic issues that impact people leaving prison and advocating for change at a State and Territory level was something that I admired and wanted to contribute to in my own way. I’ve been working hard on designing a research study that I believe will be beneficial to formerly incarcerated people by providing insights from Network members to learn more about the area of reintegration.  

The three main topics I’d like to get your views and experience on are:

  1. How terms around reintegration are adopted in your State or Territory
  2. To develop a profile of local services in your area considered relevant to reintegration
  3. To understand what you think about questions of program effectiveness to consider:
    1. what this means for the evaluation of post-release support services
    1. how success after prison is understood in the area of reintegration

I would love to hear your thoughts on and listen to your experiences with post-release services across Australia. Everyone is invited to volunteer and I look forward to meeting new people, engaging in interesting and thought provoking discussions and hearing about reintegration in your local community.

Should you agree to volunteer I will invite you to take part in a short interview on Zoom that will be audio-recorded. If you’d like to participate or have any questions about the study, please email or contact the responsible supervisor Andrew Day at or on 0403 064 239 or the student researcher Gabrielle Schiavone-Delfino at or on 0450 056 583.

Thanks for your interest in my work. I look forward to sharing my research with the Network and maybe even meeting you at the Reintegration Puzzle Conference next March in Perth.


Gabrielle Schiavone-Delfino

Urgent need to fully implement OPCAT and re-think detention and sentencing

An alliance of civil society and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, along with reintegration service providers, lawyers and academics endorsed a joint submission to the Australian Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

The submission states that the pandemic presents an opportunity to rethink detention and sentencing policies generally, and to fully implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)  regarding best practice in oversight and transparency of places of detention.

The Federal Government must take immediate steps to meet its international human rights obligations, and its obligation to stop the spread of COVID-19 through places of detention and the broader community, by adopting human rights-compliant preventative measures.

Joint submission to the Australian Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

You can read the joint submission, which includes six recommendations here.

Lessons from NZ: what works to stop children and young people getting caught up in the criminal justice system

A guest blog by Laura Chipp, who was awarded the Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship for 2019. Her Fellowship is focused on finding the best international practice and evidence base for creating an optimum legislated, conditional cautioning scheme for children and young people under 18 years.

The blog was published by the Justice-involved Young People network, led by Dr Diana Johns and Dr Sophie Rudolph at the University of Melbourne. Read Laura’s blog here.

What we need to do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our Australian criminal justice systems

Today, members of our After Prison Network endorsed an open letter, calling for all Australian governments to take urgent action reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system, especially in prisons and youth detention centres.

The open letter calls on Australian governments, as a matter of urgency, to:

• Ensure people in prison are informed on the status of COVID-19 and their rights;
• Ensure compliance with international laws and the standards for health treatment of
• Adopt, to the extent possible, best-practice sanitation (including alcohol-based sanitisers
if necessary) and social distancing techniques to promote safety;
• Support not-for-profit and government agencies to work with people in prison and their families to find them safe accommodation when they are released;
• Minimise the impact of restrictions on people in prison (e.g., frequent opportunities to
communicate with family online, in the absence of face-to-face visits; increased access to
and availability of phones; judicious approach to the use of solitary confinement);
• Minimise the use of resources on the detection and prosecution of non-violent offences
that do not pose a significant risk to the community;
• Support bail and non-custodial penalties for all defendants who do not present a very high
risk that cannot be managed in the community (eg, through electronic monitoring), noting
that stringent restrictions on daily movement are likely;
• Legislate to require bail and sentencing courts to consider the risk that a current
pandemic will present to the prisoner and their community upon release, with a view to
promoting community-based options;
• Facilitate remote supervision of bail and community corrections;
• Provide additional support to victims, noting the likely increased risk of family violence for
those in home quarantine conditions;
• Resource community legal centres, legal aid, Aboriginal legal services and prosecution
agencies to facilitate remote interaction;
• Provide for the early release of people in prison, including:
*those at high risk of harm from COVID-19, including those with pre-existing health
conditions and older people;
*children and young people;
*those detained for summary offences (e.g., unlawful driving; public disorder; fine
default); property crimes; non-violent drug offences; common assault; and breach of
justice procedures; and *those who are likely to be released in the next six months.

You can read the open letter here.

The Australian Corrections system isn’t working. We need to repurpose prison and resource communities

We know that the present ‘corrections’ systems in Australia are not working; not with respect to prison preparing people for successful re-entry and integration within their communities, and not with respect to communities being sufficiently prepared to support people released from prison.

Earlier this year, we invited people with direct experience and knowledge of the criminal justice systems in Australia to tell us:

How could prison function differently to prepare people for successful release?’

What conditions are needed within communities to effectively support people post-release?’

our World cafe questions in Perth, Brisbane, geelong, melbourne, sydney and by survey

Our project, though small scale, has identified a large number of elements that may well assist in repurposing prison or resourcing and readying communities for the return of people from prison to their communities.

Repurposing prison will involve reconceptualising prison, major culture change, altering staffing profile, increasing development and treatment programs, and practice changes to create a primary focus on preparation for post-release crime-free, productive and meaningful lives for those people released.

Resourcing and readying communities will likely involve directing resources to local communities, particularly those with a history of contributing substantially to the prison population, as well as creation of local integrated systems of support, formalising responsibility for local reintegration ‘infrastructure’ possibly through local councils, all within a broader program of support for communities identified as highly disadvantaged.

Repurposing prison

#1 Linkages between prisons and community: This was the most prominent theme identified related to how prison could function differently to better prepare people for release. The emphasis on the need to create/build the connection between ‘in’ and ‘out’ is consistent with the idea of a repurposing of ‘prison’.

#2 Reforming prison culture: Specific issues raised within this theme included: modelling prison culture to reflect the general community and encourage life skills ; providing specialist training for prison officers/guards in case management/social work; differentiating between low risk vs high offender needs and associated treatment and services and replacing the punitive approach and attitudes of prison staff with respect and inclusion principles

#3 Employing a trauma-based approach to therapeutic care: Our participants emphasised the need to treat pre-existing and prison-caused trauma as an important element of preparing people for successful release. Specific issues included: providing alcohol/other drug treatment and support and mental health treatment and support while imprisoned; using former prisoners as peer mentors in support roles; supporting psychological readiness for release and integration into the community; providing a greater number of mental health professionals and case managers to support a therapeutic approach; as well as training staff in trauma awareness and recognising pre-existing trauma and prison-trauma.

Resourcing communities

#1 De-stigmatisation and inclusion: This was the most prominent theme relating to resourcing and readying the community for release and reintegration of people from prison. Specific issues identified included: reducing sensationalist media (advocate against fear mongering and generating ‘good news’ stories); educating government and community (about the contexts of offending, challenges associated with desistance and reintegration, and the benefits of reintegration); reforming criminal record disclosure laws and providing incentives to employers hiring people who had been in prison.

#2 Throughcare training and services This was the second most prominent theme, demonstrating recognition that a large majority of people leaving prison have complex and multiple support needs and do need continuity of care for some time post-release. Specific issues raised included: provision of basic life and social skills development; family therapy and support; employment support; availability of training and education; appropriate housing (short-term, transitional, affordable, longer term); individualised and experienced case management; alcohol and other drug treatment and support; mental health treatment and support; service coordination and collaboration; and acknowledgement of the complexities associated with Indigenous status.

# 3 Whole of support system changes: Recognition of the need for system change suggests that participants understand that individuals alone, governments alone, communities alone cannot be expected to resolve what is a socially and financially costly problem. Specific issues included: the need to address the broad conditions of disadvantage within specific communities; funding local councils and making them responsible for reintegration; formalising ‘exit care’ as a standard part of a release package; introducing less onerous reporting in parole conditions; creating ‘identity pathways’ to facilitate necessary identity change from offender to citizen; breaking down support system ‘silos’ and establish local hubs; increasing terms and amounts of funding of community services; and introducing and supporting a reconciliation agenda that enlists culture leaders and elders into the process.

Read the full report here.

Let’s start a conversation.

We welcome your comments and ideas on repurposing prison and resourcing communities in our comments section below and on Twitter.

Call For Papers: Changing Seasons, Changing Lives. The 2020 Reintegration Puzzle Conference, Perth, Western Australia, June 17th-19th.

Next year, the conference theme ‘Changing Seasons, Changing Lives’ will focus on regeneration, the process of renewal, restoration, and growth. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Western Australia recognise that the distinct seasons have distinct purposes.

How can we draw on these lessons in our work with people leaving prison?

More information here.

Meet two of the advisers for the Justice-involved Young People network who are working for better outcomes for Young People in Victoria

Our network advisors meet regularly to provide our the network with specialist and strategic advice on issues relating to justice involved young people in Victoria, including advice on priorities, goals, direction and possible activities of the network. This includes supporting the identification and sharing of emerging trends and issues in youth justice. This group also […]

Meet two of our JYP advisors — JYP Network

Announcing our new state representative for Western Australia

Our newly appointed network representative for Western Australia is Ian Neil.

Ian is the Manager of Pivot Support Services which has been providing transitional services to people in prison at Albany Regional Prison and Pardelup Prison Farm since 2004. Pivot is a representative of the WA alliance of reintegration providers which consists of the eight providers across the state.  

Ian is looking forward to working with everyone to develop our national voice.

Ian Neil, far left, at the World Cafe event in Perth earlier this year.

Calling for state and territory reps for the After Prison network

Are you interested in taking on a volunteer role for your state or territory as the After Prison network local representative? We’re looking for people to volunteer as representatives for NSW, SA, WA, Queensland and the NT.

Professor Lorana Bartels is representing the ACT while Grant Herring from JusTas has accepted the role of representing Tasmania.

Here’s what the role involves:

  • ​Represent your state or territory in quarterly national network teleconferences and update State/territory network with outcomes of the meetings.
  • ​Act or delegate a person to act as the state/territory contact person on the network website here.
  • ​Retain a list of current email contacts of local members.

Is this something that you might have interest/capacity in taking on or know of someone who might consider sharing or taking on the role with you?

Please contact me if you’d like more information.