Media release: September 25, 2008 download pdf
VICTORY FOR MENTAL PATIENTS LONG BAY LOCKDOWN
Finally the government has acknowledged the right of mental patients to treatment that respects their special needs. To cause vulnerable citizens to suffer for administrative purposes is essentially torture and diminishes us as a community said JA spokesperson Brett Collins.
The NSW government has decided to transfer control of the Long Bay prison hospital to the Health Department, thereby ending the uproar caused by their decision in April to reduce time out of cells to cut costs said JA spokesperson Michael Poynder.
The Health profession including Australias leading forensic psychiatrists, nurses and the Mental Health Council of Australia, unanimously agreed that locking patients in solitary confinement from 3.30 in the afternoon to 8.40am the following day would be likely to exacerbate mental illness said Mr Collins.
The campaign for the reversal began with a petition from the patients and finally had two Notices of Motion before State Parliament, Supreme Court pending proceedings and pending proceedings based on breaches of Australia's human rights obligations under International Treaties, a complaint before ICAC alleging corrupt behaviour, critical media coverage including Stateline ABC TV, and numerous letters to the Minister for Justice from leading forensic psychiatrists, the NSW Nurses Association, HREOC, the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council, SANE Australia, NCOSS, and other significant community organizations said Mr Poynder.
We acknowledge the preparedness of the government to listen to the communitys concern said Mr Collins.
Brett Collins 0438 705003 or Michael Poynder 0401 371077
Sebastian Rosenberg, Deputy CEO, Mental Health Council of Australia 02 6285 0802 or 0417 289913
Sylvia Hale MLC NSW Greens (policy advisor Hazel Blunden) 9230 3030
Brett Holmes, General Secretary, NSW Nurses Association 8595 1234
News report: http://tinyurl.com/4u93rx
We have been informally advised that the Attorney General has decided to privatise the security services at the Hospital. It will now be run by Justice Health. Security services will be provided by a private security firm (previously it was proposed this would only happen with the new forensic hospital at Long Bay).
We understand that the reason for his decision is to take the heat out of the campaign by forensic patients to have their out of cell hours returned. They currently remain in the prison hospital waiting for completion of construction of the forensic hospital. Until April of this year they were not locked down at night until 9 pm. In April they began being locked down at 3.30 pm in the afternoon making a total of nearly 18 hours confinement in bare cells each day. We believe that the reason for the early lockdown was to save costs associated with the positions of 28 Correctional Services officers.
Some of the leading forensic psychiatrists in Australia have provided us with evidence that isolation is very much the enemy in mental health treatment. As a consequence those experts were very concerned at the almost certain deterioration in the patients' mental health and their ongoing treatment programs because of the extended periods of isolation. The actual deterioration in the patients' health was confirmed by the nurses who treated them. The nurses, through their Association, vigorously expressed their concerns by writing to and meeting with the Attorney General.
As a result, JA together with a number of concerned organisations, put together a campaign to compel the Department of Corrective Services to reinstate the previous out of cell hours.
Full details of that campaign including statements by leading forensic experts and supporting organisations appear on our website http://www.justiceaction.org.au
At the beginning of this week the campaign had reached the point where:
- 2 Notices of Motion decrying the practice (one each from the Liberals and the Greens), were before State Parliament
- Supreme Court proceedings seeking orders that the practice be stopped immediately were imminent
- Legal proceedings based on breaches of Australia's human rights obligations under international treaties were also imminent
- A complaint had been made to ICAC alleging DCS employees had indulged in corrupt behaviour by misrepresenting the wishes of the patients and the dangerous health effects of the early lockdown practice
- significant adverse media coverage had been generated in newspapers, on radio and an investigative piece had appeared on ABC TV
- a number of adverse written statements and letters to the Attorney General had been made by leading forensic psychiatrists and their representative bodies, as well as the NSW Nurses Association, HEREOC, SANE Australia, NCOSS and the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council and other significant community organisations (all of which appear on our website).
We believe that the combination of these factors has led the Attorney General to conclude that the Department of Corrective Services has badly mismanaged the treatment of these patients.
Therefore to avoid further controversy by limiting the political fallout and to prevent successful legal proceedings being instituted (not to mention limiting financial claims these patients may have for compensation), we also believe he has decided to take this action. Such action where a security organisation is prevented from providing security services to its own jail is almost unprecedented and indicates the significance of the problem and the momentous nature of the decision.
We expect that a return to normal cell hours for the patients will follow shortly.
Justice Action is delighted at this very welcome change of heart but dismayed at the time it has taken. Because of the delays some of our most helpless and vulnerable citizens have experienced very real suffering.