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S32 Step By Step Guide

Possible Links between disability and charges

It is important that you reflect on whether any of these difficulties outlined below, which are common for people with intellectual disability, have contributed to the charges your client faces.

Remember that while these difficulties are likely to continue to be present for your client - with support the negative impact can be reduced. Your client may well be able to learn new, develop better ways to cope with anxiety, learn more appropriate ways to behave - become involved in positive activities to avoid boredom, and learn to better manage their emotions and needs through counselling. However, they are unlikely to achieve this without assistance. Appropriate assistance prompted by a Section 32 can achieve real change.

Common effects Possible link
Difficulty learning or lack of opportunity to learn effectively

Ignorance of the law.
Many people with intellectual disability require specialist teaching to learn what others learn easily. Your client may not have had the opportunity to learn that the alleged offending behaviour is against the law.

Naivety due to restricted opportunity to learn and lack of age appropriate life experience. For example, some people with intellectual disability may not have learnt the generally accepted rules of social engagement. They may initiate overly friendly or inappropriate contact with strangers, which results in criminal charges.

People with intellectual disability cannot always automatically learn from past experience without assistance. This should be pointed out to a magistrate.

It is essential to understand that people with intellectual disability can and do learn but they will require teaching to be individually tailored. This is why a section 32 order can be very effective.

Difficulty reading and writing

A person with intellectual disability may inadvertently break the law because they cannot read or comprehend what they read. Many people with intellectual disability are ashamed that they cannot read and will try to conceal this. They may agree to what is in a document that they have not been able to read or understand.

Many people with a mild intellectual disability who are under the age of 30 may have learned to read to a limited extent but this is usually only to a Year 4 level. That is, a document with no more that 100-150 words to a page supported by visual images. An older person with mild intellectual disability is unlikely to have learned to read even to this level. Even where the person can recognise simple words, they may not comprehend the meaning.

Misinterpreting cues

People with intellectual disability often find themselves in trouble because they have difficulty in interpreting the verbal and non-verbal cues of others as well as the unspoken cues that govern social interactions.

A person with intellectual disability may interpret friendliness on the part of another as something more and respond inappropriately or with frustration when their advances are unwelcome. They may not understand expected boundaries in relation to children and be overly friendly or familiar.

A person with intellectual disability may misinterpret actions or instructions of the police. People with intellectual disability often attract charges of resisting arrest/assaulting police because they do not understand the context of what is happening and may attempt to flee or defend themselves as a result.

Difficulty with realising the effect of their actions A person with intellectual disability may not be able to see or anticipate the effect of their actions. For example, they may not anticipate that trying to get out of a crowd by pushing and hitting people may cause damage to others.
Difficulty weighing up options and making choices A person with intellectual disability may find it hard to make a reasonable judgment. For example, they may have been caught up in a situation without recognising that is risky and unlawful.
Difficulty understanding questions

People with intellectual disability have a tendency to agree when not really understanding the question. If they have been interviewed by the police they may not have understood their rights or the questions the police asked. They may not have had a support person present for 'vulnerable persons' as required by Not Available..

If charged with an offence, they may not see the relevance of important information and so may have not mentioned information to their lawyer that would support their case.

Difficulty understanding abstract concepts such as time, relationships, value of money Concrete thinkers
People with intellectual disability tend to think and frame things in the here and now. They may be unable to give an accurate account of time frames and other abstract ideas.
Difficulty adapting to new or unfamiliar situations

Changes can impact upon the coping ability of people with intellectual disability in a far greater way than upon others. It could be a decrease in support services, death or illness of a family member or friend, change of home, change to their normal routine, harassment by a neighbour or a change in medication.

A person with intellectual disability usually learns in a very specific way and often cannot generalise learning to unfamiliar situations. Unexpected change may result in panic, anxiety and problematic behaviour. Examples of how such panic and anxiety may manifest itself include calling 000 unnecessarily or repeatedly calling or approaching a neighbour inappropriately.

Difficulty coping with changes in routine

Some people with intellectual disability are very dependent on routine and may become anxious and behave uncharacteristically if their routine is disturbed even in minor ways.

For example, there will be an agreed upon protocol (sometimes called a Care Plan) for staff who are interacting with a person with intellectual disability in group homes. A new staff member who does not comply with the protocol could trigger reactive behaviour.

Difficulty with planning ahead or translating an intention into action

Many people with intellectual disability have difficulty in identifying the necessary practical steps to carry out their intention. For example the person may have agreed to certain bail conditions or conditions of an AVO. However, due to their disability, the person may not have been able to identify what they need to change about their usual routine in order to comply with the conditions.

The person may have had a bail condition not to go within 50 metres of a particular premises next door to their bank. Even if the person understood the bail condition in the first place, they may not realise that this means they will now have to go to a different bank. Even if they realise that, they may not be able to identify an alternative bank or how to get there.

A person's inability to make a plan or to carry out a plan could contribute to their charge. With assistance a person with intellectual disability will usually be able to arrive at a plan to avoid trouble and can be assisted to stick to the plan.

Anxiety and poor impulse control

Many people with intellectual disability have problems with managing anxiety. This may result in over-reaction to situations which to them feel threatening but which others may not see as threatening. A person with intellectual disability is likely to react instinctively and will be less likely to be able to exercise restraint.

Easily led and suggestible

People with intellectual disability are more likely to adopt the plans of valued peers without being able to assess risks or consequences for themselves. This may be exacerbated by a desire to please and a heightened need for acceptance.

Social isolation, lack of activity and boredom

Many people with intellectual disability are socially isolated and do not have the ability to seek out activities or social contact without assistance. Isolation and boredom may have contributed to the circumstances of their offence.

Becoming involved in any activity that the person chooses and finds motivating - sport, art, recreation, volunteering or work - may well decrease the likelihood of further charges. The activity may be a very simple activity that will positively contribute to the person's life

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