Urgent Change Needed for Mentally Impaired in Indefinite Detention
30 November 2016 at 2:24 pm
A long-awaited Senate report into the indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment has found huge gaps in services for people found to be unfit to plead, with the majority being Indigenous people, and has called for urgent reforms to the system.
The Community Affairs References Committee tabled its report into the indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment on Tuesday night after a year of gathering evidence.
The report said evidence presented to the inquiry showed that there were more than 100 people detained across Australia without conviction in prisons and psychiatric units under mental impairment legislation, and that at least 50 people were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
“The committee is of the view that if a person is detained in indefinite detention, then there is an obligation on the part of the state to provide therapeutic treatment in a facility not attached to the criminal justice system. To do any less would result in the state imposing criminal justice punishment on people as a direct result of them having a disability,” the report said.
Chair of the committee Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said: “Many people would struggle to reconcile that people can be and are being indefinitely detained in our prisons because they have a disability and there are no alternatives for them, but that is a reality in Australia at the moment.
“People are stuck in prisons indefinitely when they are found unfit to plead when in fact they should be receiving therapeutic care in a secure setting or the community. In some states and territories the judge or magistrate has no alternative other than to put someone in prison indefinitely because there is no alternative.
“Evidence given in submissions and by witnesses show that there are huge gaps in services for people who have been found unfit to plead. At the moment this group of people are being held in prison when they need specialised support such as mental health treatment and secure care,” she said.
The report made 32 recommendations that include state legislative reform, collecting national data, screening people when they first make contact with the criminal justice system and those already in prison, early intervention services and addressing hearing problems. As well it calls for more supported accommodation and more therapeutic care.
In particular the report called for initiatives including:
- better intervention and support services
- expanded community visitor’s schemes
- improved witness support services to people with disabilities
- creation of an assessment protocol that assists police, courts, and correctional institutions in identifying people with disabilities
- transparent, effective and culturally appropriate complaints handling procedures
- training for police, lawyers and others in justice in needs of people with disability
- where a person who has been found unfit to plead is to be held in detention, demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken to avoid this outcome, and that person must be held in a place of therapeutic service delivery.
The report also recommended that the joint standing committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme conduct an inquiry into the issue of eligibility and access to the NDIS for people held in prisons and the criminal justice system more broadly.
Australians for Disability Justice (ADJ) has described the Senate’s inquiry as “a landmark report draws a line in the sand”.
Australians for Disability Justice is a national advocacy campaign that aims to change legislation policy and practice that leads to the recurrent and indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairments, particularly Indigenous Australians.
“This landmark report draws a line in the sand: between the overrepresentation of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairments in the criminal justice system, many of whom suffer from recurrent and indefinite detention and the possibility of a different future where the experience of the justice system by people with disabilities is fair and just,” ADJ spokesperson Patrick McGee said.
“The ADJ urges the Federal Government to move quickly to implement the recommendations. This report helps all of us to understand how we can do better for people with disabilities.”
First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) CEO Damian Griffis said: “The ongoing and indefinite imprisonment of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment is a serious abuse of human rights.
“We welcome the senate inquiry report and commend the senate for turning its attention to this issue. It is critical that swift action is taken in order to end the incarceration of people with disability and to provide appropriate support and services as an alternative to jail.”
The Senate has also agreed to hold an further inquiry into accessibility for people with disability.
The inquiry will examine progress on the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 to build inclusive and accessible communities.
Labor’s shadow minister for disability Senator Carol Brown said the opposition led the development and implementation of the strategy to provide a 10-year blueprint to improve the inclusion and participation of people with disability in Australia.
“We need to look at access for people with a disability to public buildings, housing, parks and transport,” Brown said.
“People with disability can also face difficulties in accessing the media and the internet.
This inquiry will examine the impact that restricted access for people with a disability has on their ability to be included and participate in economic, cultural, social, civil and political life.”
The committee is due to report by 13 September 2017.