The ACT Human Rights Commission and advocacy groups say some prisoners with disability have been stuck behind bars longer than necessary due to delays in processing their NDIS applications.
The body responsible for the roll-out of the scheme, the National Disability Insurance Agency, told The Sunday Canberra Times prisoners were treated no differently when applying for NDIS funding.
But in a submission to an ACT government inquiry on the NDIS, the Human Rights Commission has raised the alarm on "a number" of instances where detainees of the Alexander Maconochie Centre have suffered delays in the processing of their funding applications.
This meant they waited longer for support after leaving detention, or that they were left in prison, unable to show the parole board they had sufficient supports in the community, the submission said.
The commission said it was unclear why this was the case given there was sometimes uncertainty around a person's release date and the "lengthy" delays in NDIS processes.
"These issues cause significant distress and frustration for the person, their family or carers and advocates," the commission said.
People with disability are overrepresented in Australia's jails. Human Rights Watch has estimated about half of people entering prison have a psychosocial disability, and three out of 10 have a long-term health condition or disability.
About 18 per cent of Australia's broader population has a disability.
The ACT Human Rights Commission's complaints were this week echoed by Prisoners Aid ACT and the ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service. The latter groups also raised concerns about the level of support provided to prisoners while detained.
People on bail, parole, or a community-based order can fully access their NDIS plans, while those in jail are provided only certain supports. Corrections ACT is generally responsible for supporting prisoners with disability.
A Justice and Community Safety Directorate spokesman said Corrections staff interviewed people upon their admission to custody to identify and help meet any mental or physical needs and also helped detainees apply for the NDIS.
But Hugh Smith, of Prisoners Aid, said people on the NDIS who went into the AMC struggled to secure the appropriate level of care while jailed. Others who left prison were unaware of their NDIS support entitlements, he said, even if they were diagnosed while incarcerated.
"The problem is exacerbated when individuals are in and out of prison more than once," he said.
"While the AMC seeks to provide prisoners with disability support comparable to that enjoyed by the community at large, the practical limitations are very great."
ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service chief executive Fiona May said her organisation had found the NDIA didn't "have a sense of urgency" in processing the applications of people in "safe" institutions, such as prison or hospital.
"We have a cluster of people who are in hospital and have been living in hospital for a really long time because there hasn’t been anywhere else, and it’s been really hard work to get the NDIA on board to actually craft solutions for these people," she said.
"I think it’s a similar situation in a sense: one institution or another institution, either way, the individual with disability is stuck where they are."
According to NDIA guidelines the agency will aim to process NDIS applications within six weeks for people preparing for release from custody or imprisonment.
A spokeswoman said the agency provided specialised support co-ordinators who worked with Corrections staff and other support agencies to help plan for prisoners' release "to ensure an integrated approach to funded supports".
"Upon release, if a participant requires supervision in the community because of their behaviour, this remains the responsibility of the justice system," the spokeswoman said.
The Justice spokesman emphasised the directorate was committed to ensuring prisoners with disability had comparable support to what was available in the community. The AMC had wheelchair-accessible cells and phones, he noted, and provided dedicated accommodation and health supports to people with an intellectual disability.
Prisoners with disability had access to individual and group support programs as well as occupational therapists, he said.
"[ACT Corrective Services] also works with NDIS providers to ensure detainees have the appropriate package of support," the spokesman said.
"ACTCS is also a part of an operational working group overseeing the implementation of the NDIS in the ACT."
Prisoners Aid ACT's Dr Smith said the Alexander Maconochie Centre and the NDIA should be encouraged and resourced to more effectively integrate the assistance given to prisoners with disability.
This will benefit not only the individuals concerned but also the community by reducing the numbers who return to prison," he said.
A Human Rights Watch report released in February found that prisoners with disability were at serious risk of sexual and physical violence, but that prisons failed to adequately identify people with disabilities and were ill-equipped to meet their needs.
Further, the report said: "Upon release, people with disabilities often have even less capacity to access support and navigate complex discriminatory structures and are quickly returned to prison, leading to a dangerous cycle and high rates of recidivism."
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