Why close down such a successful diversionary program?

18 June 2020

The Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program is unique in Australia. This ground breaking program has successfully kept people with cognitive disabilities out of prison. Around a quarter of participants are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Extending this important diversionary program across NSW would see many more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people kept out of the prisons and the courts.

The CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Ross Joyce has recently written to the NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman noting “The current worldwide protests and community support for ‘Black Lives Matter’, including widespread support to put an end to deaths in custody and the over-representation of Indigenous Australians within the criminal justice system right across Australia, has prompted me to again write to you concerning the urgent continuation of funding of the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program (CIDP).” Read the full letter.

So why is the NSW Government planning to close such a successful program?

Over the last three weeks, our campaign to reverse the defunding of the CIDP has received tremendous support. Thank-you! As well as our open letter signed by nearly 60 eminent Australians, over 4,000 people have signed our petition to Attorney General Mark Speakman. Numerous people have contacted Mr Speakman supporting our campaign.

The Sydney Morning Herald also ran a strong story on the campaign and there has been coverage as well on ABC radio and local media

On 1 June, we met Michael Coutts-Trotter, Secretary of the Department of Communities and Justice, with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (who run the CIDP).

The Government responds on the CIDP

The Department has now put its position in writing, saying, “During the CIDP pilot, some good results were achieved. Ultimately, however, the pilot in its current form is not scalable. The Department of Communities and Justice wishes to achieve a greater reach so that more people throughout NSW with cognitive impairment can be supported and diverted away from the criminal justice system.”

We welcome that the Department is now looking to develop a broader diversion model. However, funding for the CIDP should continue until then. Otherwise, people with cognitive impairment will suffer and a vital hub of expertise will be lost.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance responds on CIDP

As the President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance said recently in Lawyers Weekly, “Just days after it was announced that the $700 million Clarence Correctional Facility – the largest prison in Australia – is almost ready to open, we are shocked to see the government cancel much more modest funding for a program designed to keep people out of prison.

“To create a safer NSW, the focus of the criminal justice system’s interaction with people who have an intellectual disability must be on preventative and support programs, rather than investing in costly and counter-productive prisons.”

But it is not just about the dollars. It is also about the real gains for participants, their families and communities including:

  • The diversion of many participants away from prison and penalties.
  • Significant improvements in the well being of many participants and their families.
  • Long term benefits that participants themselves have reported, such as getting secure housing, going on to study for the first time, moving into employment, and being able to stay with their families instead of going to prison.
  • Participants finally getting a proper diagnosis, which often means becoming eligible for more NDIS funding and more supports. (Recent figures show a net gain of $2.5 million in additional NDIS funding annually coming to NSW participants thanks to this program)

The current community focus on over-representation and deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the criminal justice system further emphasises the value of the CIDP with its 26 percent Indigenous participants and strong links to local Indigenous organisations.

We thank First People’s Disability Network for their input into this blog and their support for our campaign

Help save the CIDP

Sign our petition

When you have signed the petition, can you also phone or email the Attorney General, Hon Mark Speakman, and tell him that you want to see funding for the CIDP continued and the extended across NSW. Here is a lobbying guide to help you.

Can you email and phone the Attorney General? Here is a lobbying guide with contact details of the Attorney General to help you.

Can you email and phone your local MP? Use our lobbying your local MP guide to help you.

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