Assessing the Disability Needs of Indigenous Prisoners (ADNIP) Project

24 October 2022

Synapse Tile

Synapse - Australia’s Brain Injury Organization, in conjunction with Griffith University, have released a Final Summary Report of their research project, Assessing the Disability Needs of Indigenous Prisoners (ADNIP).

The project was undertaken following the Council of Australian Government (COAG) Prison to Work Report (COAG, 2016), which concluded that better identification of prisoners’ needs at intake would help support the development of pathways to employment upon release.

Funded under The Australian Government Plan to Improve Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with Disability (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011), The ADNIP project examined how disability is identified and assessed in adult First Peoples prisoners, and ex-prisoners and the processes used to link First Peoples prisoners with disability to rehabilitation and other supports in prison and post release.

The focus was on those who have disabling conditions that often remain unidentified such as, cognitive impairments, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), or Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), and related disabilities - Conditions which are thought to be high in First Peoples prisoners and often remaining unidentified in the criminal justice system.

Specifically, the project aimed to:

a) Identify the methods, processes, and current gaps, to improve the identification and assessment of First Peoples prisoners with disability and/or impairment.

b) Investigate and identify services and processes to support the needs of First Peoples prisoners and formerly incarcerated persons with disability and/or impairment to better enable transition back into the community and to reduce potential barriers to employment.

The project involved three stages:

  1. Literature review - Peer reviewed and grey literature.
  2. Jurisdictional fieldwork - Interviews with prison and associated staff.
  3. Community consultation - First Peoples community members, Elders, and organisations.


Literature review findings indicated a lack of research examining prison processes for managing First Peoples with disabilities. The review showed several issues contributing to the continued over-representation of First Peoples with disabilities in prison populations including:

  • non-disclosure (exacerbated by the reliance on the system on self-report),
  • non-diagnosis,
  • lack of cultural sensitivity in assessment tools,
  • lack of cultural relevance and cultural safety in both assessments and responses, and
  • lack of specialised disability knowledge in the criminal justice system.

Jurisdictional fieldwork findings also highlighted the gaps and tension points in the journey of a First Peoples prisoner with disability through the system.

Major challenges were experienced in the early entry and assessment phase due to lack of training in disability identification, time pressure and a lack of cultural staff. During incarceration, the challenges were complicated by the lack of modified programs, a strong focus on criminogenic rather than rehabilitative concerns, confusion around the NDIS and its interface with corrective services and the lack of comprehensive and early transition planning. Implementation of policy was particularly problematic as was the lack of disability specific services.

Community consultations revealed 182 solutions which were clustered into seven broad themes including:

  • culturally safe support in prison,
  • assessment and identification of disability,
  • reintegration support,
  • disability support in prison,
  • transition planning,
  • systemic change, and
  • training programmes.

A comprehensive list of recommendations can be found on Page 28 – 32 of the report (Link to PDF below).

Recommendations arising from the project have been communicated to the Department of Social Services (DSS), potentially influencing policy and practice reform in disability and criminal justice contexts.

The findings will be used to:

  • Improve the identification and assessment of disability and/or impairment for First Peoples prisoners and formerly incarcerated persons though culturally safe and appropriate methods;
  • Improve the support and rehabilitation services for First Peoples prisoners and formerly incarcerated persons;
  • Develop options for more effective assessment tool(s) and processes.

Read the full report here (PDF):

Or, visit the Department of Social Services website:

VIDEO: Assessing the Disability Needs of Indigenous Prisoners (ADNIP).
Project Overview.