Evaluating court diversion in Western Australia as a means of addressing the over-representation of persons with mental impairment in the criminal justice system.

Miss Rhianna Chisholm2

1University Of Western Australia, School of Law, Crawley, Australia , 2Curtin Law School, Curtin University, Bentley, Australia

This project, currently in its infancy, will evaluate the effectiveness of court diversion in the criminal justice system for persons with mental impairment in Western Australia. Court diversion emerged as a means of addressing the underlying causes contributing to offending behaviour in order to break the cycle of offending and reduce recidivism. The focus of this research is the Intellectual Disability Diversion Program (‘IDDP’), operating with a dedicated Magistrate. Established in 2003, the IDDP is an inter-agency project open to participants with intellectual or cognitive disability and/or autism spectrum disorder, designed to divert applicants away from traditional criminal justice pathways to community alternatives.

The emergence of new, contextual approaches to analysing the interaction between disability and the law, particularly critical disability theory, have displaced the prevailing ‘medical’ model of disability internationally. These paradigm shifts in disability theory, exemplified by the entry into force of the Disability Convention, are drastically altering the way in which mental impairment and capacity interact with the law and its institutions. While consideration of the impact of the shifting paradigms in this area is taking place in the literature, further research is needed. Further research is particularly important in the criminal justice context (which to date has received the least attention in the literature). Western Australia offers a unique context to conduct this research due to the exceptionally high adult imprisonment rates, even higher imprisonment rates of Indigenous persons and the prevalence of certain forms of impairment, such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, in Indigenous communities.


Rhianna Chisholm is an Associate Lecturer at Curtin Law School, Curtin University and Research Assistant at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Rhianna has a Bachelor of Laws from Murdoch University and a Master of Laws from the University of Western Australia. During her Master of Laws, Rhianna focused on developing expertise with respect to criminology, human rights and mental health law. She is currently completing her PhD at the University of Western Australia on the effectiveness of court-based diversion for persons with mental impairment in Western Australia.


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