MHDCD Project


Michelle is an Indigenous woman in her early thirties. She grew up in a coastal town in very disadvantaged circumstances. She was taken into kinship care when she was three. Michelle was expelled from school at 15. She has a borderline intellectual disability that was not diagnosed until she was 23 years old.

Michelle came into contact with police at nine as the victim of an assault, and then as a person of interest in relation to a theft the following year. She was arrested at 13 for theft, with her case dismissed with a caution. Aged 14 she was charged with a number of counts of theft, resulting in her being given bail conditional on her residing at home with her mother and not being out at night. Soon after she was found at night in a tent in a caravan park, and ended up in juvenile justice custody. Police began to be regularly called after instances of violence perpetrated by Michelle, resulting in an AVO in one case which referred to her being often affected by cannabis and alcohol. Soon after, while Michelle was subject to bail conditions requiring her to be in the presence of her father when not at home, Michelle was arrested for offensive language, and reportedly assaulted police when they restrained her. She was then charged with offensive language, assaulting police and breaching bail conditions and spent more time in juvenile justice custody.  Her contact with the criminal justice system for theft, violence and breach of bail conditions increased throughout her teenage years.

Just after being expelled from school at 15, Michelle came into contact with police after a man paid her for sex and then for stealing a car with friends and driving to Sydney. She was held in remand in juvenile justice custody before escaping and then returning of her own accord a week later. Her cycling in and out of prison continued into her twenties. Whilst she was in custody aged 21 she alleged that when she was 16 or 17 she had been sexually assaulted by a man who had broken into her boyfriend’s parents’ house where she was saying. Police records stated that it appeared Michelle ‘is suffering from either a mental illness or a reaction from a drug. Her letter does not make any sense and is extremely hard to understand’ and no further action was taken. Michelle made a further identical allegation four months later which again was not followed up. Michelle continued to have contact with the police for theft, offensive language and violence-related offences as an adult, and received increasingly lengthy custodial sentences. There is no record of her receiving disability services. 

This case study was compiled by Alec Sewell for his PhD thesis “Complex Needs at the Interface of Human and Justice Services”. UNSW Australia (forthcoming)

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