RIVERINA residents with cognitive impairment who need to navigate the criminal justice system have been given a boost thanks to a new volunteer-run support program.
The Justice Advocacy Service, which helps those with impairments such as intellectual disability and brain damage, announced earlier this year by the state government has rolled out to the region.
The program helps victims, witnesses and defendants with cognitive impairment to exercise their rights and fully participate in the justice system.
Bradley Addison, the program's justice advocate for the region, said they need more volunteers to help address the strong need for the service.
"There's an over-representation of people with cognitive impairment in the justice system," Mr Addison said.
"So there's really that need to advocate for and support them through the process.
"It's to make sure their rights in the system are being upheld and that they understand their rights."
Mr Addison said volunteers will receive training beforehand. The program currently has four volunteers for the Riverina and Mr Addison said at least another 10 would be ideal.
There's an over-representation of people with cognitive impairment in the justice system.Bradley Addison, Justice Advocate
Volunteer Sue Maxwell, a Wagga resident of 35 years, had been helping others for four years under the previous arrangements. She is now part of the new program and said it is more direct and targeted.
"The service used to be part of the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and they were based in Sydney and we had a pool of volunteers here in Wagga," she said.
"Usually the referrals were from the police, Corrective Services or solicitors.
"So people might not have come directly to us."
Asked about what why people should volunteer, Mrs Maxwell said "it is satisfying when you know you are assisting somebody because the court system can be very daunting for people".
"People don't need to be familiar with the court system," she said.
"It helps if you like working with people. You've got to be a little patient and be able to ask a solicitor to explain something more simply.
"It's a really worthwhile thing to be involved in. People do appreciate you being there."
The advocacy service is an initiative by the Intellectual Disability Rights Service.
The program rolled out after funding of $10 million was announced in April.
More about volunteering in the program at Intellectual Disability Rights Service.