The Guardian • Issue #1981

SA bans spit hoods

Content Warning: deaths in custody

On 23rd September, the South Australian parliament voted unanimously to ban the use of spit hoods by police, corrections officers, and in mental health contexts, becoming the first jurisdiction in Australia to do so. Spit hoods are currently banned for use on children in every state, but SA is the first to ban their use on adults.

The Bill is known as “Fella’s Bill”, following the high profile death in custody of Wiradjuri, Kokatha, and Wirangu man Wayne Fella Morrison in September 2016. Since then, Morrison’s family has led a sustained campaign to get spit hoods banned in SA and across the country. At a protest is May this year, Morrison’s mother, Caroline Andersen, said:

“I am angry at the lack of accountability from Corrections, I’m angry that they get to be paid thousands of dollars for more than 14 lawyers collectively to represent them and their interests and we only have two. I’m angry that from the beginning we have had a minimum of voice in our matter, every delay feels like a new splinter, I am tired and have waited so long. We demand answers.”

Spit hoods are designed to prevent people from spitting on or biting others and are primarily used in corrections, but are also used in mental health contexts for this purpose. They are an incredibly dangerous method of restraint, with limited effectiveness in preventing disease transmission. As such, spit hoods have been condemned as an “archaic,” “inhumane,” and “barbaric” form of punishment.

Morrison’s case is just one in a long string of deaths in custody involving spit hoods. Damning reports of their use on children as young as thirteen and the high profile case of Dylan Voller led to a nationwide ban on their use on children. This led the South Australian Ombudsman, in 2019, to release a report recommending they be banned in youth detention, stating that:

“I have no doubt that the application of a spit hood is an inherently traumatic event for the child or young person involved.”

But spit hoods are not only dangerous for young people and critics have called for them to be abolished entirely.

The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a troubling rise in the use of spit hoods, ostensibly as a way to prevent corrections officers from contracting the virus. Yet, a report out of Northern Ireland suggests that they have very little effectiveness in preventing disease transmission. The report stated:

“The product will not prevent aerosols from coughing or sneezing and is therefore not an effective means to prevent COVID-19.”

Given their ineffectiveness in preventing disease transmission, the dangers of using spit hoods vastly outweigh their benefit. The CPA calls on all jurisdictions in Australia to follow South Australia in banning the use of spit hoods on adults as well as children. They are an inhumane and brutal form of punishment and are not effective against the COVID-19 pandemic.

A coronial inquest into Morrison’s death has been ongoing for the last three years. At the time of writing, final submissions were scheduled to be heard in the coming week.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More