OPINION

Shire Matters with Mark Speakman: More support for people with cognitive impairment

Far too many people across the Shire, and across the country, are living with undiagnosed cognitive impairment.

These include people who have trouble with things like memory or paying attention. Who may struggle to speak or understand others, or have difficulties with the basic interactions and the moment-to-moment decision-making of everyday life.

In the criminal justice system, people with cognitive impairment are overrepresented in just about every category - as victims of crime, as witnesses to crime, as suspects and as prisoners.

Navigating the criminal justice system can be overwhelming for just about anyone, but particularly for people with a cognitive impairment.

Since 2019, the NSW Government has funded a statewide Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) to provided much-needed support in over 4,500 cases for victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants. About a third of these cases are Indigenous people.

The 24-hour service provides people with a cognitive impairment with a support person to accompany them to the police station, court and legal appointments.

The NSW Government commissioned an independent evaluation of JAS, which found that the service supported more people to understand court orders and bail conditions, and helped many people break the cycle of reoffending.

We've listened to the experts and last week I announced a further $28 million investment to support people with cognitive impairment who come before the criminal justice system, including four years of additional funding for JAS.

This funding will also allow the Government to establish a nation-leading court-based diversion program in six of NSW's busiest courts. The program will build on the supports offered by JAS by providing more targeted assistance to people with cognitive impairment accused of low-level offences.

The evidence in this area is clear. Diverting low-level offenders with cognitive impairment to treatment and to support services like the NDIS helps them turn their lives around and reduces the risk of them offending again. It's best for the individual and it's best for community safety.