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Issue #1814      March 14, 2018

Prisoners deprived of dignity

Some prisoners with disability in Western Australia are having to endure the extra stress and humiliation of having to wear nappies because they cannot physically access a toilet.

One WA prisoner told Human Rights Watch that his wheelchair can’t fit in the jail’s bathroom or toilet. “I have to wear a nappy every day,” he said. “I don’t feel like a man; I feel like my dignity is taken away.”

An Aboriginal prisoner had the same issue and had to urinate into a bottle.

The organisation released a new report “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished”, which details the conditions of prisoners with disabilities face in Australian jails.

Researchers interviewed 275 people including 136 current or recently released prisoners with disabilities from WA, Queensland and NSW.

They were given unfettered access to 14 WA and Queensland prisons.

Neglected

The report found prisoners with disabilities are often neglected because of staff shortages, a lack of training and resources. “People with disabilities get lost in bigger prisons. If you’re not screaming or kicking, and if your disability isn’t visible, you’re under the radar,” a WA prison psychiatric nurse was quoted in the report.

It also raises concerns about prisoners with disabilities being locked in solitary confinement as punishment for bad behaviour or after mental illness episodes.

In one case, researchers said a female prisoner with a disability was kept in a windowless, perpetually-lit, padded cell for an entire month.

One Queensland psychologist working on a prison program said it was ethically challenging to make decisions about solitary confinement. “A (prisoner) is having suicidal thoughts and you stick them in a box with nothing but their thoughts,” the psychologist said.

The report said there was evidence prisoners with disabilities were facing increased bullying, harassment, physical violence and sexual abuse.

“I was sexually assaulted (by other prisoners) ... I know at least one of them raped me, but I kind of blacked out,” one prisoner with a cognitive disability told researchers.

Guards were sometimes the perpetrators of abuse, the report found.

“They catch you when you’re working by yourself and touch your boobs, bum, or put a hand around your waist. Or they make stupid comments like ‘You’ve been here a while, you must be horny,’” a female prisoner said.

Aboriginal people are over-represented in the Australian prison population, as are Indigenous people with disabilities.

Koori Mail

Next article – Survivors of institutional child abuse blocked from justice

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