Behind the Behaviour: Considering the Impact of Unmet Communication Needs in the Justice System

Ms Mary Woodward1, Professor Pamela Snow2
1Speech Pathology Australia , -, Australia, 2La Trobe University, -, Australia

The first step in addressing needs is to recognise them. This presentation will provide an overview of what is known about the expressive (spoken) and receptive (comprehension) communication skills of young people in the justice system. Consideration will be given to how a young person’s behaviour may be masking underlying communication difficulties, and how these unidentified difficulties may have contributed to their pathway into the justice system, via the now well-established school-to-prison pipeline. The presenters will also discuss the impact that these difficulties are likely to have on a young person’s participation in justice processes such as police interviews, court appearances, and restorative justice conferencing, as well as their engagement in verbally-mediated treatment programs and literacy interventions.


Professor Pamela Snow is a speech pathologist and a registered psychologist and is Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School, at the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University. She has conducted extensive research over the last two decades on vulnerable young people, particularly those in the youth justice system, out-of-home care and flexible/alternative education settings. Her findings show alarmingly high rates (around 50%) of unidentified language disorder in youth offenders, and she has published extensively about the implications of these difficulties for early educational practices, youth justice policy and practice, restorative conferencing, and the need for speech pathology services.

Mary Woodward is a speech pathologist with extensive experience in the forensic and psychiatric systems. She has worked in secure psychiatric hospitals, as a Registered Intermediary for the Ministry of Justice, and has been involved in youth justice in both a research and training capacity.  She is currently employed as the Senior Speech Pathologist at the Concord Centre for Mental Health in Sydney, the National Advisor, Justice and Mental Health, for Speech Pathology Australia and has a private practice, Speak Your Mind Services, providing speech pathology assessment, intervention and training within the justice and mental health systems.


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