MHDCD Project

6.4.14. Wendy

Wendy is an Indigenous woman in her early forties. She has been diagnosed with moderate intellectual disability and recorded as having ‘brain damage’ and a range of mental health disorders, mostly in connection with her use of cannabinoids.

Wendy’s first police contact was at 13 years of age for theft, and then at 14 as a missing person. Wendy’s offending primarily related to property theft and damage, assault, and breach of bail. Wendy has had 330 recorded contacts with police as a person of interest and 240 charges against her over 25 years. She has had 39 periods of adult custody, primarily on remand. Her longest period of incarceration (13 months) was for breach of a parole order that required that she reside at a drug rehabilitation centre. Wendy has been charged with 127 offences in custody, primarily for intimidation, disobeying directions and abusive language, with only two of these being dismissed for lack of evidence. She was also recorded as being the victim of violence and self-harming in custody.

Much of Wendy’s contact with police has been in public spaces, with her alleged offending occurring in train stations, churches, beaches and fast food restaurants. They mostly related to theft, although she also reportedly threatened or used violence against others in order to steal from them. In relation to a number of such incidents the police decided to take no further action, due to the wishes of victims and police recognition of her intellectual disability and mental ill health. Despite the absence of charges, the frequency of her contact with police contributed to a narrative about her criminality in police records.

Early in her adult life Wendy was recorded as having no fixed permanent address. At the age of 31 she began living in disability supported accommodation with case management and behaviour intervention and support following a period of involuntary confinement in prison and in a mental health facility. From that time on, she moved between prison and various supported disability accommodation settings and locations: group homes, hospital based large scale accommodation and specialist forensic community disability supported accommodation with 24 hour supervision. Wendy had regular police contact in relation to property damage and assault against disability support service staff. Wendy regularly breached orders that required her to reside at disability accommodation and/or follow the direction of her case manager and other staff, requiring police notification. Support staff have been recorded as active in encouraging police not to press charges around property damage. She received 17 section 32 orders as an adult. The most recent police contact recorded in the data related to her being a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by a co-resident at the disability supported accommodation where she was residing.  

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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