A Human Rights Watch report warns people with disabilities in Australian prisons are at serious risk of sexual and physical violence.
Prisoners with serious mental health conditions or cognitive disabilities in particular were found to spend days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years locked up alone in detention or safety units.
Released today, the 93-page report I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished examined 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.
“Being locked up in prison in Australia can be extraordinarily stressful for anyone, but is particularly traumatic for prisoners with disabilities,” said Kriti Sharma, disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“The services to support a prisoner with a disability just aren’t there. And worse, having a disability puts you at high risk of violence and abuse.”
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.
In nine out of 14 prisons, prisoners with physical disabilities had to either wait for access to a bathroom, or else shower, urinate, or defecate in humiliating conditions because bathrooms were not accessible.
“Toilets are not accessible,” one prisoner said. “I can’t get my chair in. I have to pee in a bottle.”
Another said: “I have to wear a nappy every day. I don’t feel like a man; I feel like my dignity is taken away.”
Among those interviewed, 41 people said they had suffered physical violence, and another 32 sexual violence by fellow prisoners or staff.
In 11 out of 14 prisons, Human Rights Watch also found evidence of racism toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners.
Prisoners in solitary confinement typically spend 22 hours or more a day locked in small cells, sealed with solid doors, and even contact with staff may be wordless.