New Article Shines Critical Light on Indefinite Detention of People with Disability

On the eve of the release of a major Australian Senate report on indefinite detention of people with disability, a new article by LIRC member Dr Linda Steele provides a critical perspective on indefinite detention in the forensic mental health system by locating these practices in the broader context of the multiplicity of practices of detention of, regulation of and intervention in criminalised disabled bodies.

Steele argues that scholarly and law reform and policy engagement with issues relating to people with disability in the criminal justice system might consider ‘disabling’ forensic detention. ‘‘Disabling’’ forensic detention involves challenging the self-evidence of the meaning of disability in forensic mental health law, and in turn illuminating the significance of this meaning to the possibility and permissibility of forensic detention and other interventions in the bodies of people designated with cognitive impairments and psychosocial disabilities (‘‘people designated as disabled’’).

Steele applies this approach to an examination of a high profile media case study of one individual subjected to forensic detention: an Indigenous Australian woman with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Roseanne Fulton. By examining Fulton’s forensic detention, in the context of her earlier life circumstances and her subsequent journey through various ‘‘alternatives’’ to this forensic detention Steele shows the interrelationships of forensic detention with a range of legal options for punishing, regulating and intervening in bodies designated as disabled and situate these interrelationships in a broader range of issues of violence, institutional failure, social disadvantage, settler colonialism, and ableism. Her central argument is that the ongoing subjection of Fulton to a range of forms of control across her life suggest that the possibility of forensic detention and other forms of punishment of people designated as disabled is not attached to a particular material architectural space or a particular court order, but instead attaches to these individuals’ bodies via medico-legal designations as disabled and travels with these individuals through time and space.

Ultimately, Steele proposes that more directly it is the disabled body that is the space of punishment and the disabled body makes material architectural spaces punitive. A ‘‘reform’’, indeed even an ‘‘abolition’’, approach focused on material architectural spaces of disabled punishment will not interrupt the ongoing processes of control of criminalized people designated as disabled if it does not also acknowledge and challenge the temporal and carnal logics underpinning the carcerality of the disabled body itself.

The article can be viewed here:

Steele’s submissions to the Senate Inquiry on indefinite detention can be viewed here and  here.

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