MHDCD Project

6.4.13. Ryan

Ryan is an Indigenous man in his early thirties. Over his life has been diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability and a number of mental health disorders, some connected to long-term drug misuse. Ryan was a state ward from the age of five and spent the majority of his childhood in OOHC, involving 27 distinct foster care placements. Ryan did not complete schooling beyond year 5. Police describe him at 11 as ‘very emotionally disturbed’ and as having experienced ‘physical and psychological abuse’.

Ryan’s contact with police began at 9 as a missing person. He was recorded as a missing person 18 times prior to his first criminal charge aged 11. Ryan’s police contacts then shifted from relating to absconding from his residence to offences of property damage and assault against care workers. At 11 he had his first custodial episode after police assessed bail as being ‘inappropriate’, with the reason for remand recorded by juvenile justice being ‘lack of community ties’. Ryan subsequently had 185 charges recorded, resulting in 38 periods in juvenile justice custody and 7 in adult custody, both on remand and sentenced. From the age of 12, bail breaches began to become a dynamic in Ryan’s criminal justice pathways, with Ryan’s carers notifying police when he absconded from his residence, resulting in him being breached and spending longer periods on remand in juvenile justice custody. These longer periods spent on remand marked the beginning of Ryan’s self-harm in custody.

By the age of 15, Ryan’s care-related offending had ceased and he increasingly came into contact with police for theft, motor vehicle and driving offences. From this time Ryan cycled in and out of custody frequently, with the longest period he was out in the community being six months.  Ryan’s self-harm in custody was particularly frequent and severe during the weeks prior to his 18th birthday. On the eve of his birthday, Ryan reportedly tried to self-harm and offend so he could be transferred to an adult correctional facility, with police notes stating that he ‘claimed that his grandfather and father had both killed themselves in Corrective Services and now it was his turn’.

There is no record of him receiving disability support services as a child or adult. 

This case study was compiled by Dr Linda Steele for her PhD thesis “Disability at the Margins: Diversion, Cognitive Impairment and the Criminal Law”. University of Sydney 2014.



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