Disability, Criminal Justice and Law: Reconsidering Court Diversion, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Disability, Criminal Justice and Law

Reconsidering Court Diversion, 1st Edition

By Linda Steele


304 pages

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Hardback: 9780815375265
pub: 2020-06-03
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Through theoretical and empirical examination of legal frameworks for court diversion, this book interrogates law’s complicity in the debilitation of disabled people.

In a post-deinstitutionalisation era, diverting disabled people from criminal justice systems and into mental health and disability services is considered therapeutic, humane and socially just. Yet, by drawing on Foucauldian theory of biopolitics, critical legal and political theory and critical disability theory, Steele argues that court diversion continues disability oppression. It can facilitate criminalization, control and punishment of disabled people who are not sentenced and might not even be convicted of any criminal offences. On a broader level, court diversion contributes to the longstanding phenomenon of disability-specific coercive intervention, legitimates prison incarceration and shores up the boundaries of foundational legal concepts at the core of jurisdiction, legal personhood and sovereignty. Steele shows that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities cannot respond to the complexities of court diversion, suggesting the CRPD is of limited use in contesting carceral control and legal and settler colonial violence. The book not only offers new ways to understand relationships between disability, criminal justice and law; it also proposes theoretical and practical strategies that contribute to the development of a wider re-imagining of a more progressive and just socio-legal order.

The book will be of interest to scholars and students of disability law, criminal law, medical law, socio-legal studies, disability studies, social work and criminology. It will also be of interest to disability, prisoner and social justice activists.


"Steele’s Disability, Criminal Justice and Law: Reconsidering Court Diversion is a must read for activist-scholars and anyone concerned with disability, criminalization, and interlocking oppression. Using Puar’s theoretical work on debility/capacity alongside Foucault, disability carceral scholarship, trans and queer abolitionism, settler colonial studies, and beyond, Steele stages a skilful conversation between these varied provocations, which guides her critique of policy and practice surrounding actual experiences of court diversion and the implications for struggles for social justice. Steele shows how a seemingly humanitarian measure is complexly implicated in the disproportionate criminalization and oppression of disabled, Indigenous, racialized, and poor peoples."

Chris Chapman, Associate Professor of Social Work at York University Canada; editor of Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada and author of A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression in the Moral Economies of Social Working (2019)

"Disability, Criminal Justice and the Law is a tour de force. Providing a much needed critical account of court diversion, Steele analyses the coercive and ‘net widening’ effects of a process that is often unthinkingly regarded as beneficial. Based on novel empirical research, and employing interdisciplinary research methods, Steele documents the violence and injustice entailed in reliance on diversion, drawing connections between law, disability and settler colonialism, and exposing the ways in which law debilitates criminalised disabled people through diversion. This book deserves to be read widely – not just by criminal justice and critical disability studies students and scholars, but also by legal professionals and justice advocates working in the field of law and disability. Steele’s powerful assessment demands an urgent rethinking of the value and effects of court diversion. "

Arlie Loughnan, Professor of Law at University of Sydney; author of Manifest Madness: Mental Capacity in the Criminal Law (2012) and Self, Others and the State: Relations of Criminal Responsibility (2020)

"Linda Steele's book offers a much needed disruption to the common assumption that people with disability are over-represented in criminal justice systems due to a lack of treatment and support in the community post their deinstitutionalisation. Steele's book not only shows us how law plays a particularly pernicious role in debilitating criminalised disabled people, but also how this role of law can expand and mask settler colonial control and violence of Indigenous and First Nations people and other racialised minorities. Grounded in a careful analysis of court diversion, this book further invites us to explore the bifurcation of the political category of disability, showing us the edges of the chasm that is forming between rights-bearing disabled citizens and their debilitated, corrosively-disadvantaged counterparts. Disability, Criminal Justice and Law is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the multiple, complex and often contradictory relationships between people with disability and law."

Claire Spivakovsky, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at University of Melbourne; author of Racialized Correctional Governance (2013) and editor of Critical Perspectives on Coercive Interventions: Law, Medicine and Society (2018)

"Linda Steele’s Disability, Criminal Justice, and Law does exactly what its understated subtitle says it does; namely, reconsider court diversion schemes for criminalised disabled people. But in methodically and forensically (in all senses) reconsidering a particular aspect of the criminal justice system, this wonderful book opens up a series of powerful and systemic questions about disability, identity, criminal responsibility and social justice in contemporary settler colonial societies. Armed with insights from Foucauldian legal theory, critical disability studies and socio-legal studies, and with a keen eye both for the finer points of theory and the lived experiences of disabled people, Steele’s book takes a legal mechanism we thought we knew and casts fresh, and critical, light on it. In so doing, Disability, Criminal Justice, and Law, forces us to reconsider many of our assumptions about law – beyond court diversion itself. "

Ben Golder, Associate Professor of Law at University of New South Wales; author of Foucault and the Politics of Rights (2015) and Foucault’s Law (2009)

Table of Contents





Chapter One: Introducing Court Diversion

Chapter Two: Problematising Court Diversion

Chapter Three: Theorising Court Diversion: Disability

Chapter Four: Theorising Court Diversion: Carcerality and Legality

Chapter Five: The Finer Details of Debilitation Through Law: Introduction to an Australian Diversion Scheme

Chapter Six: Jurisdiction, Disability and Lawful Relations

Chapter Seven: Choosing Carceral Control

Chapter Eight: Disability, Criminal Justice and Law: Beyond Court Diversion




About the Author

Linda Steele is based at the University of Technology Sydney

About the Series

Social Justice

Within a broad geopolitical and intellectual landscape, this new, theoretically engaged, interdisciplinary series explores institutional and grassroots practices of social justice across a range of spatial scales. While the pursuit of social justice is as important as it has ever been, its character, conditions, values, and means of advancement are being radically questioned and rethought in the light of contemporary challenges and choices. Attuned to these varied and evolving contexts, Social Justice explores the complex conditions social justice politics confronts and inhabits – of crisis, shock, and erosion, as well as renewal and social invention, of change as well as continuity.

Foregrounding struggle, imagined alternatives and the embedding of new norms, the Social Justice series welcomes books which critically and normatively address the values underpinning new social politics, everyday forms of embodied practice, new dissident knowledges, and struggles to institutionalise change. In particular, the series seeks to explore state and non-state forms of organisation, analysing the different pathways through which social justice projects are put into practice, and the contests their practice generates. More generally, submissions are welcomed exploring the following themes:

• The changing politics of equality and social justice

• The establishment of alternative, organised sites and networks through which social and political experimentation take place

• The phenomenology of power, inequality and changing social relations

• Techniques of governance through which social change and equality agendas are advanced and institutionalised across different geographic scales

• Institutionalisation of new norms (through official and unofficial forms of institutionalisation) and struggles over them

• Practices of resistance, reversal, counter-hegemony and anti-normativity

• Changing values, practices, and the ways in which relations of inequality and difference are understood

Social Justice is intended as a critical interdisciplinary series, at the interface of law, social theory, politics and cultural studies. The series welcomes proposals that advance theoretical discussion about social justice, power, institutions, grass-roots practice and values/ ethics. Seeking to develop new conversations across different disciplines and fields, and working with wide-ranging methodologies, Social Justice seeks contributions that are open, engaging, and which speak to a wide, diverse academic audience across all areas of the law, social sciences and humanities.

For further information on the series, or to discuss a possible contribution, please contact the Series Editors at:

Davina Cooper, Kings College London, WC2R 2LS, UK
[email protected]

Sarah Lamble, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
Tel: +44 (0)207 631 6017
[email protected]

Sarah Keenan, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
Tel: +44 (0)207 631 6017
[email protected]


Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Criminal Law / General
LAW / Disability
LAW / Mental Health
LAW / Judicial Power
SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities