A significant number of criminal justice systems lack strategies or policies to meet the needs of persons living with disabilities. Such lack of attention has meant there is little global data on how many people in prison live with a disability. From country-specific data available it appears a significant proportion of people in prison live with one or multiple disabilities – both physical and mental. Challenges for people with disabilities in detention range from access to healthcare needed to manage a disability to a lack of support in daily activities.
Aside from a lack of data, there is also a lack of understanding, recognition and diagnosis of certain disabilities among people in prison, such as autism.
At times, people living with physical disabilities in prisons are unable to participate in rehabilitative activities, lacking hearing aids, Braille documents or interpretation. In overcrowded facilities the impact of a disability is magnified, often with a complete lack of individualised care or attention. This means that time in prison for someone with a physical disability is disproportionately harsh.
People with intellectual disabilities may need support with day-to-day tasks such as reading, writing or personal hygiene. In detention settings, people are often faced with new rules and structures and people with intellectual disabilities can find it hard to understand new situations and follow instructions.
People with disabilities are also at significant risk of violence or abuse at the hands of other people in prison and staff.
A neuro-disability refers to neuro-developmental conditions often beginning at childhood and persisting into adulthood. They can affect an individual’s ability to learn, participate and access information and services. Children affected by neuro-disability are over represented in criminal justice systems across the world. Procedural barriers, such as complexity, formality and rigidity of criminal justice processes may limit their right to a fair trial and understanding of conditions.
Rehabilitation and reintegration