Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Rod Underwood

Second Advisor

Dr. Irene Froyland

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to present a thorough examination of the extent of participation of adult offenders with an intellectual disability within all levels of the criminal justice system in Western Australia, that is, from arrest to charge, to court appearance and finally to conviction. Western Australia provides a unique opportunity to examine the operations of the criminal justice system, because it possesses comprehensive computerised data sources on offenders, and by utilising the State central register on people with disabilities; it was possible to include in the study a significant proportion of those people with an intellectual disability in Western Australia. The study was a longitudinal study over a ten-year period where it was possible to examine all levels of the criminal justice system, that is, from arrest to court appearance and finally to conviction and possible detention. In examining the different outcomes, it was also possible to control for the number and types of offences committed by first time offenders. In addition, the available data provided the opportunity to study the rate of recidivism of people with an intellectual disability compared with other offenders. Eight hundred and forty three individuals with an intellectual disability were tracked through the justice system and their experiences were compared with two thousand four hundred and forty two other offenders. At the first stage of the justice process, namely arrest, the study found that people with an intellectual disability were no more likely to be arrested and charged with a criminal offence than others within the general population. However, once they entered the system, they were subsequently rearrested at nearly double the rate compared with the non-disabled sample. In addition, it was found that there was substantial disparity in the offending profiles, at arrest, between the two groups. A notable finding was the difference in the charge pattern over time. Not only were people with an intellectual disability charged more often, they were charged at a far greater rate over the latter part of the study period, while arrests for the non-disabled sample were about the same over the two five year periods. It is suggested that the higher incidence of arrests during the period 1990-1994, may offer support for the view that the rise of arrests of people with an intellectual disability within the criminal justice system, has corresponded with the deinstitutionialisation of state facilities. At the next stage of the justice process, formal prosecution in the court, it was found that people with an intellectual disability appear to be treated differently in the types of penalties imposed, and the different penalties imposed for similar offences. It was also found that differing uses were made of alternatives to imprisonment. An important aspect of the study of offenders with an intellectual disability is the prevalence of recidivism. A considerably higher probability of re-arrest was found for offenders with an intellectual disability compared with other offenders, and the study canvassed several explanations for this higher recidivism rate. The conclusion of this study is that explanations of psychological and sociological disadvantage or the susceptibility hypothesis which have been put forward as possible reasons for people with an intellectual disability being over-represented in prison populations are not sufficient to account for the findings of this study. The fact that different outcomes were experienced by people with an intellectual disability as they proceeded through the criminal justice system is not inconsistent with the different treatment hypothesis. In addition there is strong evidence to suggest that the equality of services is a critical factor relevant to the rate of recidivism. A service model is recommended to assist in reducing the high rate of re-arrest of people with an intellectual disability.

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