Solitary confinement must be banned, says Ombudsman

Solitary confinement must be banned, says Ombudsman

In a damning report released today, the Victorian Ombudsman has called on the Andrews Government to prohibit in law the use of solitary confinement – the physical isolation of someone for more than 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact.

The report describes the use of solitary confinement on children and young people as “overwhelming and distressing”.

It details experiences from Port Philip prison where young people were held in effective solitary confinement for over 100 days and put into cells described as “exceedingly bleak” and “brutal” with faeces and flooded floors. At the Malmsbury youth jail, a 16 year old Aboriginal boy was isolated 45 times in 12 months.

The report also found completely inadequate health and mental health checks or services for children and young people subject to solitary confinement.

Ruth Barson, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre who was a member of the advisory committee that provided input into this report, said that the Andrews Government must act to ban solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement brutalises people. It is an archaic way of treating people and is now known to inflict long term and irreversible harm. With the confronting evidence of this report in front of him, it would be unconscionable for Daniel Andrews not to consign solitary confinement to the history books,” said Barson.

Download the full report here.

Earlier this year the Ombudsman conducted an OPCAT (the UN’s anti-torture protocol) style inspection of Port Philip prison, Malmsbury Youth jail and a Secure Welfare Facility to examine the prevalence of the use of solitary confinement on children and young people.

The report makes 26 recommendations to guard against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and Daniel Andrews is yet to action  these recommendations.

One of the case studies in the report reads:

In total I was put in the slot [Charlotte Unit] for nine months. I’ve never been the same since. A letterbox flap would drop outside, and I’d jump. Or it would be just the sounds; people walking around behind me … The day I was let out of here, they led me out of the slot in handcuffs to the front gate … I was on the bus in green pants, everyone was looking at me. I jumped off the bus early and started crying … I couldn’t wait in the line at Centrelink with 100 other people. Do you know how hard that is, when the only person you’ve seen for the last nine months was yourself in the mirror? – Adult prisoner.

The Australian Government ratified OPCAT 18 months ago. This is the second OPCAT style inspection the Victorian Ombudsman has undertaken. The first was at the Dame Phyllis Frost women’s prison where the Ombudsman also found dehumanising solitary confinement practices in use.

“Evidence shows that the health impacts of solitary confinement include anxiety, depression, hallucinations, psychosis and risk of suicide. A good government would not subject any human being to this type of cruelty,” said Barson.

You can find our Explainer about solitary confinement here.

For for information or comments, please contact:
Tom Clarke, Campaigns Director, Human Rights Law Centre on 0422 545 763 or tom.clarke@hrlc.org.au