CRG 09/14-15: Aboriginal prisoners with cognitive impairment – Is this the highest risk group?

This study investigated the prevalence of cognitive impairment and its associations with mental health, cultural needs and offending for a representative cohort (= 122) of adult Indigenous offenders in custody.

Results revealed an over-representation of cognitively impaired prisoners in the sample (22%). The prevalence of mental illness was exceptionally high, and so there was a large minority with concomitant illness/disability.

Given the widely publicised custodial overrepresentation and social disadvantages endured by Indigenous Australians, there was an expectation that Indigenous status and its associated risk factors would potentially preclude differentiation by level of cognitive impairment. This was true for several social and emotional wellbeing and custodial needs. However, possessing a cognitive disability was connected to poorer outcomes for participants in a number of areas.

Indigenous offenders with cognitive impairment were more susceptible to harmful coping mechanisms in the face of stressors such as drug and alcohol abuse. They were also more likely to perceive discrimination, have family members in custody and have trouble managing acute emotions compared to non cognitively impaired offenders.

The cognitively impaired subgroup were more likely to re-offend, were younger at first offence, and had greater numbers of prior offences.

Findings signal the need for culturally themed disability assistance and diversionary options at all levels of the criminal justice system.