Skip to content

Research into provision of disability services in prisons wins ANZSOG Policy Studies Prize

24 January 2024

News and media


A chance conversation with a colleague about what happens to a person’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan if they are sent to prison has led to Dr Sophie Yates being awarded the ANZSOG Siobhan O’Sullivan Prize for Policy Studies Research for 2023.

Dr Yates, a Research Fellow at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, and former Research Fellow at ANZSOG, received the Prize for her Australian Journal of Public Administration (AJPA) article “Where specialist and mainstream service systems collide: The National Disability Insurance Scheme in prisons.”

The article, co-authored by Shannon Dodd (ACU), and Caroline Doyle, Fiona Buick and Helen Dickinson (all UNSW Canberra), was part of a wider research project into the experiences of people with disability in prisons.

“Because it seemed like there was a lack of knowledge in the sector on what happens with the NDIS in prisons, we decided to do some research into what the policy was and then what actually happened in implementation,” Dr Yates said.

She said there are no reliable statistics on what percentage of people in prison have disability. This is because disability definitions vary, prisons have not traditionally been good at identifying people with disability, and people may not recognise or be willing to admit they have a disability.

The NDIS is designed to work in conjunction with other government services such as health, employment or transport, and the issues around prisons are another example of systems not working well together.

The research outlines the difficulties faced by people attempting to access NDIS supports from prisons and finds that ‘NDIS service delivery is only possible when advocates and staff are particularly persistent or when multiple factors align to facilitate a particular outcome’.

This finding adds valuable weight to an issue that has been raised by disability advocates and others in the disability and cirminal justice sectors. The article has already been cited by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and the recent NDIS Review report, which recommended a new approach to coordination and case management for complex settings such as prisons.

The project was also featured in the Conversation, with the authors writing an article outlining how people with disability do not get the support they need in prison, which makes them more likely to reoffend.

The article stated that: “while NDIS rules and access for those in custody have been improving, significant work still needs to be done to ensure people in prisons get consistent and fair access to their NDIS entitlements. People need planning and support well before their release dates to prepare them adequately for re-entering the community.

“More specialist support coordinators, more funding for advocacy services, and a provider of last resort would assist with making sure this complex needs group receives the care necessary to avoid the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system.”

Beyond this project, Dr Yates has a broader research agenda examining public administration and policy issues through a gender and inequality lens. She is currently working on a project about the citizen science app FrogID – her personal favourite is the banjo frog (or pobblebonk), for its amazing group chorus.

The O’Sullivan Prize awards $1000 to the winner and is jointly sponsored by ANZSOG and the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA). It is awarded for the best peer-reviewed article by a postgraduate or early career researcher, with a Policy Studies (public policy, social policy, public management or governance) focus in the previous calendar year.

The Prize was first awarded in 2019, and is an attempt by ANZSOG and the APSA to recognise the importance of academic research in contributing to policy debate, and leading to better policies in the long-term.

More information about the ANZSOG Siobhan O’Sullivan Prize for Policy Studies Research is available here. Entrants must be working or studying at an Australian university (or working outside the higher education sector for those who are between academic appointments).