National Forum seeks to end cruel inhumane and degrading treatment of people with disability in dete
The Committee for the Convention Against Torture (CAT) has observed that Australia detains young people and adults who have disability and/or mental health disorders every year. Some are held indefinitely, and others cycle in and out of prisons and other places of detention. Many are subjected to traumatic, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
The National Forum on Cruel, Degrading and Inhumane Treatment of People with Disability and Mental Health Disorders in Australia’s Places of Detention, bought together, for the first time, people with disability and mental health disorders, civil society, and government agencies to develop a plan to implement the Concluding Observations of the 2022 review of Australia’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture.
Forum participants heard the stories of children with disability such as autism and foetal alcohol spectrum disorders being kept in solitary confinement and of adults with mental health disorders dying as result of being held in custody.
Forum co-host and Disability and Justice Advocate with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) Taylor Budin said:
“The experience of being detained has left me extremely traumatised and I live with that trauma everyday. I was humiliated and guards treated me as if I was nothing. No one called me by my name I was only ever called my prison number.This made me feel like I wasn’t even a human being. Surely, we can do better than this? It’s not right that people with acquired brain injury and autism should be treated this way.”
First Nations Australians with disability and mental health disorders are particularly vulnerable to both arbitrary detention and ill treatment. As they are 20 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Indigenous peers, they are significantly more likely to be subject to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in detention.
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman and Forum speaker Penny McKay said:
“People with disability are over-represented in places of detention in Australia and are particularly vulnerable in those places to treatment that may be cruel, inhuman or degrading. The Forum is an important opportunity to explore how civil society can play a role in holding Australian governments to account for the treatment of people with disability in places of detention.”
This treatment includes solitary confinement, strip searches, physical or chemical restraint, forced medical treatments, the use of spit hoods, detention without end, neglect and degradation and other restrictive practices, all in contravention of United Nations treaty obligations.
Principal Lawyer Director, Equality Lawyers and National Forum Facilitator Natalie Wade stated:
“People with disability have the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and to access justice on an equal basis with others. The Forum brings together Australia's thought leaders, government representatives and human rights defenders in a conversation led by people with intellectual disability and cognitive impairment with lived experience of detention to develop a National Action Plan. This promises to shift the way we all approach the realisation of human rights for people with disabilities in places of detention.”
The National Forum is set against the backdrop of the termination of the visit by the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention Against Torture earlier this year.
In 2023 the Committee for the Convention Against Torture called on the Australian Government to better protect adults and children in detention with disability and mental health disorders in Australia’s places of detention. A chief outcome of the National Forum is a National Action Plan that will outline the process by which this occurs.