The harrowing tale of a young man languishing in prison due to a lack of suitable accommodation in the community highlights that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) does not meet the needs of some of the most marginalised members of the community, writes Jesuit Social Services Media Relations Manager KATHRYN KERNOHAN.

The story of Francis, a young man with severe intellectual disabilities languishing in a Melbourne prison, highlighted on ABC TV’s 7:30 program last week is particularly harrowing.

Francis, who recently turned 20, is languishing in Melbourne Assessment Prison. Picture: ABC News.

While Francis has been allocated a package with up to $1.5 million in support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), no suitable accommodation is available to him in the community.

Francis has been on remand (meaning he has not been sentenced) for an assault since September 2016 but has been refused service by disability providers due to the around-the-clock care he would require.

Francis has self-harmed in prison, and his experience in accommodation before prison was marred by alleged abuse and neglect.

Following the significant media coverage Francis’ story attracted, Victorian Minister for Disability Martin Foley announced he would step in to ensure the young man has access to suitable accommodation and support.

This may result in improved outcomes for Francis – but significant challenges will remain for others who have multiple and complex needs.

As we outlined in our submission to the Productivity Commission’s study into the NDIS costs, COAG has agreed that the NDIS will not fund individuals during their time in prison.

This disjointed approach means people with disabilities face significant barriers to continuity of support – not to mention the difficulty for people in prison to gain access to the NDIS due to limitations on access to computers and the internet in correctional facilities, and the levels of literacy and self-advocacy skills needed to gain assistance from the NDIS in the first place.

In our submission, we called on Governments to ensure people with disability who have involvement in the justice system have access to disability support before, during and after imprisonment.

Without continuity of care, as VCOSS warns, participants may have their health and wellbeing further compromised and may be at increased risk of reoffending.

Outside of the prison system, the NDIS in its current form does not lend itself to the type of intensive case management required by people with multiple and complex needs for whom a specialist response is necessary.

We at Jesuit Social Services have 40 years of experience working with people who have contact with the criminal justice system, and we know that many of these vulnerable people do not necessarily have the comprehension, memory and ordered thinking to navigate the complexities of the NDIS and engage with appropriate services.

Our submission also raises concerns about the service delivery structure and pricing of the NDIS. While these may meet the needs of many Australians who access the NDIS, they must be flexible and provide access to highly skilled staff to adequately support people with complex needs like intellectual disabilities or acquired brain injuries (ABI).

Over the past three years we have partnered with RMIT University’s Centre for Innovative Justice on the Enabling Justice Project, which aims to reduce the over-representation of people with ABI in the justice system.

Through hearing the stories of people with lived experience of the prison system and ABI, we know that many people with ABI or other intellectual disability can struggle with memory and find it difficult to retain information. This can manifest in challenges keeping appointments, seeking support and identifying appropriate services – and the flow-on effect can be an exacerbation of other issues being dealt with.

The final report of the project included a range of recommendations spanning all parts of the justice system. It is our hope that these recommendations will be implemented, which would help ensure people on the margins are able to better navigate the system from involvement with police to courts, prisons and post-release support.

The NDIS will improve the lives of many Australians living with disability – however at present there are clear barriers to providing the same level of support to some of the most marginalized members of society, such as Francis.

We believe all Australians should have the chance to flourish, and this begins with access to targeted and specialist care for people with disability and complex needs.