Policing disability and disadvantage

Ms Simone Rowe1, Emeritus Professor  Leanne Dowse1, Mr Michael Baker1, Professor  Eileen Baldry

1UNSW, Sydney, Australia

Despite the overrepresentation of disadvantaged and racialised people with disability in criminal justice systems across the ‘western’ world, criminologists have been slow to consider disability as an analytic category and identity in relation to criminal justice and policing in particular. Police are the ‘gatekeepers’ of entry to criminal justice systems, and a key institutional mechanism that creates and perpetuates punitive or carceral logics. This paper draws on previous and current research to critically examine police interactions with people with disability and the impacts of intersecting and compounding forms of ableism, racism and sexism documented in policing institutions in the ‘western’ world.

The paper considers the implications of key findings from recent research commissioned by the Disability Royal Commission. First, we draw on the existing literature and interviews with leading disability advocates across Australia to examine the implications of criminal justice reform initiatives (e.g. police training) that have failed to effect change and prevent the criminalisation and penalisation of people with disability. Second, we tease out the parts played by racist, gendered and ableist ideologies. And third, we examine the evidence for divesting from police as first responders to people with disability and into resourcing the systems and practitioners who are best placed to support the social and health needs of people with disability and prevent them from entering or re-entering criminal justice systems. This final initiative has been shown as critical to disrupting punitive and carceral logics and realising social rather than criminal justice for people with disability.


Simone Rowe is Research Associate and PhD candidate at UNSW. Her research and publications include critical interdisciplinary analyses of disability and criminal (in)justice, First Nations people and criminal (in)justice, decolonial approaches, and innovative methodologies that centre the subjugated knowledges and voices of marginalised groups. Simone’s doctoral research is an empirical and theoretical study about the experiences of carceral subjects with cognitive disability.

Michael Baker is a disability and criminal justice advocate with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service. He is completing a Bachelor of Criminology & Criminal Justice (Honours) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).


Dec 10 2021