Current issues in imprisonment research

Current topical issues related to imprisonment-related practices.


The issue of mental health and its intersection with the criminal justice system has gained traction in recent years, but there remains a limited examination of the full remit of offenders with disabilities and cognitive impairments in prison, and the ways in which punishment is utilised to respond, control and contain these individual’s lives. This was a key focus of ImO for 2016/2017.

The rising over-representation of individual’s with either/or both mental illness, disabilities or cognitive impairments in the criminal justice system and in prisons in particular, is a trend that is global. Many researchers connected to ImO are beginning to interrogate the practices and implications of punishment and imprisonment or detention in all its forms as it is directed towards these populations.

Recent Publications


Segrave, M., Spivakovsky, C. & Eriksson, A. (Eds.) (2017) Special Issue: The maelstrom of punishment, mental illness, intellectual disability and cognitive impairment. Punishment & Society 19(3).


Baldry, E., McCausland, R., Dowse, L., McEntyre, E & MacGillivray, P. (2016) ”It’s just a big vicious cycle that swallows them up’: Indigenous people with mental and cognitive disabilities in the criminal justice system‘, Indigenous Law Bulletin, 8(22): 10-16.

McCausland, R. & Baldry, E. (2017) ”I feel like I failed him by ringing the police’: Criminalising disability in Australia’, Punishment & Society 19(3): 272-289.

Segrave, M., Spivakovsky, C. & Eriksson, A. (2017) ‘The maelstrom of punishment, mental illness, intellectual disability and cognitive impairment’Punishment & Society 19(3): 267-271.

Spivakovsky, C. (2017) ‘Governing freedom through risk: Locating the group home in the archipelago of confinement and control’, Punishment & Society 19(3): 366-383.


Baldry, E., McCausland, R., Dowse, R., & McEntyre, E. (2015) A Predictable and Preventable Path: Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability in the criminal system, UNSW.

View the full list of recent post-imprisonment publications here.

Current Projects

2016-2018 – Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), Women, disability and violence: Creating access to justice. Chief Investigators: Professor Jane Maree Maher (Lead), Dr Claire Spivakovsky and Professor Jude McCulloch. This project is a Monash University in partnership with People with Disability Australia. The project explores the experiences of women with disability in seeking access to justice, when they have faced violence and/or sexual assault either inside or outside of their relationships. The project centres women’s voices and experiences, and their insights are explored in relation to those of service providers and other justice sector stakeholders.

2015-2017 –  Funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services, National Disability Research and Development Research Scheme, Unfitness to Plead and Indefinite Detention of Persons with Cognitive Impairments: Addressing the Legal Barriers and Creating Appropriate Alternative Supports in the Community. Chief Investigators: Bernadette McSherry and Anna Arstein-Kerslake (Melbourne Uni), Eileen Baldry (UNSW). This project will address the National Disability Strategy policy area of ‘Rights protection, justice, and legislation,’ which the Audit of Disability Research in Australia found as an area that is under-represented in disability research. It will address the issue of persons with cognitive impairments, particularly those from Indigenous backgrounds, who are being detained indefinitely in Australia without conviction. Existing research indicates that there are different legal and social structures in each state/territory that are resulting in this indefinite detention. Specifically, the research will address the lack of support structures that is leading to limited options for persons with cognitive impairments who are charged with a crime and found unfit to plead. With a combination of qualitative research and engagement with the community, the project will identify key barriers and create solutions. Supported decision-making has been widely discussed, both internationally and abroad, as the best practice in both rights protection and service provision for people with disabilities. This project will utilize the wealth of scholarly and practical knowledge that is available on supported decision-making and apply it to the criminal justice system in Australia. It will attempt to address the problem of unfitness to plead and indefinite detention at its source. It will try to prevent rulings of unfitness to plead through the use of supported decision-making procedures that will facilitate the individual’s interaction with the trial process. It will also attempt to provide sufficient support to those who are found unfit to plead to allow them to be as involved in the trial process as possible. This will provide a form of advocacy that respects the rights, will and preference of people with cognitive impairments, including indigenous people, in the criminal justice system. This project forms part of a proposed National Disability Research Collaboration.

2014-2017 – Office of the Public Advocate grant, Enhancing the rights and well-being of people with acquired brain injuries in the criminal justice system. Chief Investigators: A/Prof Gaye Lansdell (Faculty of Law, Monash University), Dr Bernadette Saunders (School of Social Work, Monash University), Dr Anna Eriksson (Criminology, Monash University).

Completed Projects

2016 – Monash University, Mental Impairment & Imprisonment: Identifying best practice support within and beyond the prisonChief Investigators: Marie Segrave, Anna Ericsson & Claire Spivakovsky. This is a scoping project focused on reviewing service provision for imprisoned people and for those exiting prison & the integration of care and support for mental impairment, from the perspective of health and service providers in Victoria, Australia.

2010-2014 – ARC Linkage Research Grant, Indigenous People with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System. Chief Investigators: Prof Eileen Baldry, Dr Leanne Dowse, A/Prof Julian Trollor, Professor Patrick Dodson (UNSW), Dr Devon Indig (Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice), POs Housing and ADHC (FaCS), Justice Health, Legal Aid. The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Indigenous Australians) with mental health disorders and cognitive disabilities (MHDCD) in Australian criminal justice systems (CJS) is a matter of great importance to Government, policy makers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The IAMHDCD Project brings an Indigenous informed mixed method research approach to the study of this issue. Qualitative interviews afforded new and in depth understandings from an Indigenous perspective and inform the existing rich dataset (MHDCD Project Dataset). The MHDCD dataset comprises data on 2,731 persons who have been in prison from Police, Corrections, Justice Health and other health areas, Courts (BOSCAR), Juvenile Justice, Legal Aid, Disability, Housing and Community Services to allow a whole of life picture of institutional involvement. The dataset was used to investigate the pathways Indigenous Australians with MHDCD take into, around and through the Human Service (HS) and CJS and their experiences of the systems and system interactions.