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Cognitively impaired admitting to crimes they say they didn’t commit

No one told Dorothy Armstrong in her first ever police interview she was allowed a support person; someone to help understand the jargon, comfort her, encourage her description of who attacked her and how.

Credit Justin McManus

Zach Hope, February 20, 2021, The Age

Research from RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice suggests more than 40 per cent of men in prison and more than 30 per cent of women have an acquired brain injury. Only a small percentage of this large population would have been provided an Independent Third Person during questioning, said Centre for Innovative Justice associate director Stan Winford.

“In our Enabling Justice report, which Dorothy was part of, we interviewed 20 people with a [cognitive] disability who had extensive involvement with the justice system,” he said. “Only four of them had access to the ITP program.”

Advocates said some police stations were excellent and called ITPs to almost 200 interviews a year. Other stations rarely, if ever, picked up the phone.

“It’s not an anomaly that a police officer will come across someone with a cognitive impairment – it’s often the norm,” said Michael Haralambous, a senior adviser with the CIJ. “If you have an extremely low take-up of the ITP program, it begs the question ‘why?’

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