Launch of the Human Rights Watch Report – ‘I Needed Help, Instead I was Punished’


Media Release

8 February 2018

Today QAI launches the Human Rights Watch report ‘I Needed Help, Instead I was Punished’. “We are honoured to launch this important, sobering report, which provides a detailed account of the abuse and neglect people with disabilities endure in prison,” QAI Director Michelle O’Flynn said today.  “There are about 8000 people in Queensland jails and at least one in ten of has an intellectual disability. Include other kinds of intellectual, physical, sensory and mental health impairment and you find that almost half of prisoners have some kind of disability.”

“Being locked up in prison in Australia can be extraordinarily stressful for anyone, but is particularly traumatic for prisoners with disabilities,” said Kriti Sharma, disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The services to support a prisoner with a disability just aren’t there. And worse, having a disability puts you at high risk of violence and abuse.”

Jail is about a lot of things like punishment and community safety, but above all it should be about rehabilitation:  about giving prisoners the opportunity to develop the skills and psychological resources to re-join the community not as broken and traumatised victims, but as people who have something to offer to it.  Instead, this report shows us that for prisoners who have impairments, jail is about physical and emotional trauma.

People with disabilities go to jail because they have been convicted of serious offences, but also because of systematic disadvantage and neglect.  Outside jail, a person who has intellectual disability is more likely to be unemployed and socio-economically disadvantaged; be illiterate or less educated; have poor social or communication skills; have behavioural and psychiatric disorders; and have experienced childhood neglect, abuse and trauma.

This systemic disadvantage is why so many people with intellectual disabilities are in jail – QAI’s work through our Justice Support Program shows that most people offend because of a lack of social supports like appropriate housing and personal support.  People with intellectual disability go to jail at five times the rate of the general population.  The rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with intellectual disabilities is 13 times higher than the rate of the general population in Australia.  All prisoners with intellectual disabilities are twice as likely as other prisoners to return to jail.  “These statistics are staggering, particularly given that prison is never an appropriate place for a person with intellectual disability,” Ms O’Flynn said.

QAI commends Human Rights Watch for this disturbing report. We call on the Premier, and Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan to make a commitment to end the continuing trauma of detention cells, solitary confinement, physical abuse, victimisation, sexual assault and exploitation of prisoners with disabilities.

Given that prisoners receive support from other inmates such as personal care and other needs, which can increase the person’s vulnerability to extortion and coercion, it is vital that the issue of NDIS funding for prisoners is addressed as an urgent priority.  QAI calls on the Commonwealth Government to commit to getting prisoners with disabilities their NDIS support entitlements.


Media contact: Michelle O’Flynn 0481 381 528