PWdWA Media Release:  WA Prisoners with Disabilities Neglected, Abused

People With disabilities WA
Media Release

7 February 2018

WA Prisoners with Disabilities Neglected Abused 

WA Disability and Mental Health Peaks join Human Rights Watch in call for Inquiry into Use of Solitary Confinement

“People with disabilities in prisons across Australia are at serious risk of sexual and physical violence, and are disproportionately held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day”, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The report “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia,” examines how prisoners with disabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, are at serious risk of bullying, harassment, violence, and abuse from fellow prisoners and staff. Prisoners with psychosocial disabilities – mental health conditions – or cognitive disabilities in particular can spend days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years locked up alone in detention or safety units.

“The findings of this report are, unfortunately, not surprising and confirms the accounts we have heard from people with disabilities and their family members through our organisations work on abuse and neglect” said Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director PWDWA.

Human Rights Watch investigated 14 adult prisons across Western Australia and Queensland and interviewed 275 people, including 136 current or recently released prisoners with disabilities, as well as prison staff, health and mental health professionals, lawyers, academics, activists, family members or guardians, and government officials.

Corrective services in Western Australia cooperated fully with Human Rights Watch and have been open to hearing the research findings. This is an opportunity for the McGowan Government to respond to the issues and push for much-needed reform.

People with disabilities, particularly psychosocial or cognitive disabilities, are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system in Australia – 18 percent of the country’s population, but almost 50 percent of people entering prison. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise 28 percent of Australia’s full-time adult prison population. Within this group, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities are even more likely to end up behind bars.

“This research provides clear recommendations that the state government can implement now, such as providing mental health services in prison, training health staff, and screening of prisoners to identify those people who have a mental health or cognitive disability and support needs”

“We call on the WA Government and Premier Mark McGowan to implement these recommendations immediately starting with ending the practice of solitary confinement for people with disabilities and providing mental health services that can transition with people back in to the community” stated Taryn Harvey CEO of WA Association of Mental Health. “There must also be adequate resources and culturally appropriate support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities who are disproportionally represented in the system.”

“The WA prison system is not adequately protecting people with mental illness and disabilities from harassment and violence by prison staff and other inmates. This results in devastating impacts on people’s safety and their will to live”, said Shauna Gaebler, CEO of Consumers of Mental Health WA. “We commend the WA government’s current review of health services in prisons and welcome urgent reform and uptake of these recommendations.”

“It is unbelievable that there are still issues with access to basic bathroom facilities for prisoners with physical disabilities” said Ms Jenkinson. “There are a number of recommendations in the human rights watch report which are easy to implement as well as some which require legislative changes. Australia is signatory to a number of human rights treaties which are reflected in the recommendations made. This is simply about treating people humanely.”

As peak bodies representing people with disability in Western Australia we support the call for a national inquiry into the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with disabilities, and reform of the WA system. The Human Rights Watch report clearly shows this is a damaging practice that is counterproductive and harmful.

For selected testimonies in the report, please see the full media release from Human Rights Watch below.

To access the online report in full: “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia”: