Disability court program 'needs expansion'
A service helping people with disability deal with complex and stressful court proceedings should be expanded instead of having its funding cut, an inquiry has heard.
The cognitive impairment diversion program ran between 2017 and 2020 in NSW before funding was cut due to budget constraints caused by COVID-19, the disability royal commission was told on Wednesday.
Taylor Budin, a 24-year-old woman with autism, told the hearing of her experience navigating court and prison with and without the program.
After receiving a good behaviour bond for an assault at a pub, she lost her job working in the disability sector and said it "would have been a whole different story" had the program been around at the time.
As well as managing the court process, she said the service helped her deal with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and organise healthcare.
"What I can't comprehend is why you get rid of something that was going so well," she said.
"How many other people are in there (jail) that could be on the program, that could be out, not in?"
Geoffrey Thomas, a 57-year-old Aboriginal man with a cognitive brain impairment, was also a beneficiary of the program.
"It was an absolutely totally different perspective ... because people were communicating from the minute we walked in the door, from my support worker to the solicitor, from the solicitor to the prosecution, from the prosecution to the magistrate," he said.
Prior experiences in court could be hard to follow and Mr Thomas sometimes would not understand what had happened at the end of a matter, the hearing was told.
Instead of situations escalating, Mr Thomas said the program helped intervene before points of conflict and ultimately saved money.
"The taxpayers are paying less money because we can identify issues that can be solved amicably without having confrontation with police, involving ambulance officers, dragging it through the courts," he said.
Mr Thomas suffers anxiety and said he sometimes had trouble sitting still when there could be a bad outcome.
"Someone is sitting there going, 'Geoff, it's alright'," he said of his support worker.
"He's saving meltdowns, he's saving confrontations with police, he's saving people walking out of court and having first instance warrants served on them, he's saving people's lives by having a neuropsychologist's report done."
Neuropsychological reports helped both with court matters and dealing with the NDIS, commissioners were told.
The royal commission is hearing from 33 witnesses over eight days as it explores indefinite detention and the "cycling in and out" of jail by people with disability.
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