Miriam Merten Overview
Justice Action submitted a report to the NSW Health Department Inquiry after the death of Miriam Merten, mother of two and a mental health patient from Lismore Base Hospital. Miriam died on 3rd June 2014 from injuries sustained during her time in seclusion. The horrific nature of Miriam’s treatment was evidenced with shocking CCTV footage of her final hours, exposing the lack of care from the NSW Health Staff at Lismore Base Hospital along with their abject failure to intervene in her untimely death.
Ms Merten died in 2014 from a brain injury after she fell more than 20 times whilst in the care of the Mental Health Unit of Lismore Base Hospital. The coronial inquest into Ms Merten’s death found that Ms Merton died from a "traumatic brain injury caused by numerous falls and the self-beating of her head on various surfaces, the latter not done with the intention of taking her life". Disturbing CCTV footage of the neglected, blood and faeces splattered, Ms Merten wondering the corridors of the Lismore facility on the night of her death have emerged, and be viewed in this article.
Brett, Saeed, Geoff and Kassia at the Mental Health Open Day 2012
LATEST NEWS ON SAEED'S CASE
Saeed Dezfouli is a forensic patient who has been in detention since 19 January 2002 and could be held indefinitely despite doing an act normally punished with a short sentence. During this time, his rights have constantly been abused, he has been forcibly medicated and is under the Health Department's total control.
He is still being held in the highest security facilities, despite being a non-violent person who never intended the harm he caused. Saeed’s battle represents the universal struggle of mental health patients against the state’s attacks on their personal integrity. It concerns the right to not be assaulted, the right to education, and the right to person-centred health care - all of which are breached in Saeed’s case. The State’s callous indifference and abuse of mental patients rather than fulfilling their duty of care is the worst expression of community responsibility in a system costing over $200,000 a person a year.
Saeed brought proceedings in the Supreme Court, regarding a review of his treatment, back in February 2010. He sought the following orders:
- That the forensic hospital cease forcibly medicating him against his will;
- That he be given access to a computer donated to the hospital by the students of the University of NSW for educational purposes
- To cease psychiatric treatment from his then-current psychiatrist to be replaced with treatment from a psychiatrist of his choice.
To this day, despite our support, Saeed has not been able to achieve any of those aims even though they are basic to publicly stated person-centered health care.
Force and the abuse of power over vulnerable people is central to the mental health culture, and the medicalisation of social problems is basic to it. Tribunal support for a consumer worker allocation and computer access has been ignored by the hospital.
He has appealed to the Supreme Court three times to force assistance from the Mental Health Review Tribunal. Justice Action incurred a $60,000 court costs order with an arrest warrant and garnishee order issued until it was withdrawn in February 2015.
Justice Action stands beside Saeed as a focus person and his primary carer in this battle for human rights.
Read more about Saeed's story here.
Listen to ABCs 'The Man without a Name' here.
Here is a list of major issues relevant to Saeed Dezfouli's case:
Legal Proceedings & MHRT Hearings
On 16 August 2018, the Mental Health Review Tribunal accepted evidence from psychiatrist Dr. Jeremy Resnick, that Malcolm Baker is not delusionsl and that his forced medication was to be stopped immediately. The psychiatrists' report challenged previous psychiatric assessments of Malcolm. In the past, Mr. Baker was diagnosed as having schizoaffective disorder, or a "chronic psychotic illness," primarily substantiated by the apparent persistence of delsional ideations.
Dr. Resnick's report concluded that Mr. Baker's alternative points of view were not delusions, and were instead based on "rational explanations to be found in research literature such as the Nexus magazine." The psychiatrist told the Tribunal that Mr. Baker will be gradually phased off the medication and will instead undertake cognitive behavioural therapy at Long Bay Hospital.
Although the Tribunal accepted that Mr. Baker did not suffer from delusions, they neglected to remove him from the mental health facility where he was kept. The Tribunal did not receive substantial evidence that Mr. Baker did not pose a risk of causing serious harm to himself or others, meaning that their decision not to remove Mr. Baker from the facility did not meet the requirements of s14(1) of the Mental Health Act. Health services have a duty to treat all consumers with respect and must provide assistance free of coercion. The health professionals' sudden backflip suggests an effort on their part to avoid confrontation with the Supreme Court. This raises serious questions about the quality of Mr. Baker's initial "diagnoses" and subsequent treatment and perhaps more frighteningly, how many others are suffering from similar abuses in the mental health system?
Below is the histroy of Mr. Baker's diagnoses and an analysis of the decision. Whilst it is important to celebrate this victory, the fight isn't over yet, and we ask for your assistance in preventing further abuses within the mental health system.
Diagnosis History of Malcolm Baker
Below are some relevant extracts from Mr. Baker's history of incarceration. Justice Action has appeared with Mr. Baker before the Mental Health Review Tribunal on six separate occasions to fight for his right to refuse medication. Justice Action believes that Mr. Baker was misdiagnosed, forced into a vicious cycle of medication and re-admission based on symptoms caused by the very treatment he received while incarcerated.
A timeline of Malcolm Baker's diagnosis history:
What is schizoaffective disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is characterised by persistent psychosis (e.g. hallucinations, delusions) and mood episodes of depressive, manic, and/or mixed types. This disorder will likely affect a person's thought, emotions and actions. Additionally, it is reflective of two common psychiatric illnesses, namely schizoprenia and a mood disorder (major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder).
Is schizoaffective disorder reversible?
Currently, there is no cure for schizoaffective disorder. It is a life-long illness but its symptoms may be managed and controlled with treatment, especially medications.
The Relationship between Delusions and Schizoaffective Disorder:
Delusions are understood as 'fixed forms of belief that do not change regardless of evidence to the contrary.' The delusions appear to be false or not based on reality. Additionally, "delusions are deemed bizarre if they are clearly implausible and not understandable and do not derive from any ordinary life experiences."
According to DSM guidelines, in order to meet the criteria to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder a person must experience an uninterrupted period of illness where a major depressive, manic or mixed episode is concurrent with 2 or more of the following symptoms for at least one month:
However, only one symptom is required in the case of delusions being bizarre. During the period of illness, delusions or hallucinations must persist in the absence of prominent mood symptoms. In order for this condition to be diagnosed, the symptoms experienced by a person must be not better explained by the use or abuse of a substance (alcohol, drugs, medications) or a general medical condition (such as a stroke).
Applying this to the case of Malcolm Baker
Malcolm Baker's diagnosis for schizoaffective disorder was fundamentally justified and substantiated by persistent delusions (as per the statements in the timeline, on dates 20 August 2010, 18 August 2012 and May 2015-May2016). This line of diagnosis has proven to be incorrect given the recent report by Dr. Jeremy Resnick. He is of the opnion that Mr. Baker's beliefs are "not delusional in a psychiatric sense" and "aside from his 'alternative views' discussed above, my own exmaination currently does not find true delusional ideation in his thinking."
Mr Baker's beliefs originate from rational explanations as summarised by Dr. Resnick (Mental Health Review Tribunal, 10/08/2018):
"Mr. Baker has for many years been fascinated by alternative points of view, which may sound bizarre and impossible. However, it appears for many of these ideas, there are legitimate, rational explanations to be found in alternative research literature such as the Nexus Magazine...Mr. Baker at times links these ideas with his own coincidental experinces in prison, drawing conclusions that are self-referential, paranoid and at time superficially delusional."
Dr. Resnick provided another alternative explanation to Mr. Baker's behaviour, particularly that of his mistrust for people which has been heavily impacted by his personal history:
"It is apparent...he remains affected by memories of his traumatic childhood in terms of emotions, attitudes and beliefs in relation to others and himself which could be described as paranoid (i.e. mustrustful/suspicious, fearful...hostile, angry and comabtive...)."
Computers in Cells International Survey
Petition: Call for Computers in Cells for Juvenile Detainees
University of Southern Queensland Presentation
JA Juvenile Justice Summit Leaflet
Juvenile Justice Summit Agenda 4-5 May 2017
The subject of youth crime has been one of much public debate over the last few years. Statistics demonstrate that many youths who resort to crime face serious social and economical marginalisation. Furthermore, our juvenile clients commonly report experiences of neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Justice Action believes that major changes have to be made to the current youth justice system in order to combat these ongoing concerns.
Continued funding should not be given to juvenile detention centres; rather, the underlying systemic inequalities that youth offenders face must be immediately addressed. Tax dollars should instead be redirected towards furthering youth education and rehabilitation programs for young offenders; housing initiatives; and creating community centres and after-school initiatives, amongst various other things. This is the only way to either combat youth crime before it starts or break the vicious cycle of crime in which young offenders are trapped.
Click here for detailed proposals for mentoring and justice.
COMPUTERS IN JUVENILE CELLS
Computers in cells is a key initiative of Justice Action. The aim of the juvenile detention is supposed to be the rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders. A key part of this rehabilitation is education, which can be facilitated by the provision of computers into the cells of prisoners. Read more here.
About 400 activists, academics and ex-prisoners participated in the ICOPA 18 conference based at Birkbeck campus of the University of London.
It was hosted by the Department of Criminology Birkbeck University of London, Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative, the Open University, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Other participating organisations were the Action for Trans Health, Bent Bars Project, Black Lives Matter UK, Empty Cages Collective, Inquest, IWW London, JENGbA, London Campaign against Police and State Violence, Netpol, North London Sisters Uncut, Race & Class collective, Reclaim Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network, Smash IPP!, Stopwatch and Women in Prison.
Justice Action brought with them a statement from Long Bay prisoners representing prisoners of Australia. (See underneath) This statement of solidarity was read as the final message of the conference on Monday afternoon. JA presented the Computers in Cells victory in Australia and shared the mechanisms for its adoption in all jurisdictions, giving prisoners the right to communication. The JUST US newspaper for people in prison and locked hospitals was distributed.
Academics from Australia and NZ presented their papers on abolition. The history of the anti-carceral feminist actions called Wring Outs in the 1980s and 1990s in Melbourne was presented by Emma Russell and Bree Carlton. Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill described resistance against Maori criminalisation and the Robson Collection in Napier Library supported by ICOPA in NZ in 1997. Community policing protecting sex workers in NZ was described.
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA18) highlights in 15-18 of June 2018:
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA 18) Summary:
Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill interview ICOPA18:
These videos are on YouTube now! For more details:
International Conference on Penal Abolition (Justice Action): http://justiceaction.org.au/prisons/prison-issues/icopa
ICOPA 18 website: https://icopa2018.com/
ICOPA 18 Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReclaimJustice
ICOPA 18 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Abolitionist-Futures-154837165177628/
ICOPA website: http://www.actionicopa.org/
ICOPA 19 will be in Miami US in mid 2019.
iExpress: Now launching prisoners & mental health patients online!
Justice Action is proud to introduce iExpress, the world’s first prisoner webpage and interactive email system aimed at empowering people in prisons and forensic hospitals and bringing them into the digitial world, reducing the divide and social exclusion that currently exists. They will now have the opportunity to access an exciting, new channel of self-expression and communication, free of charge. Launch video here.
We are bringing them out of the cells and onto the net! iExpress website
The NSW Government has adopted a new concept in prison architecture to allow an urgent response to an unexpected surge in prisoner numbers. This new form of imprisonment, holding 800 maximum security prisoners in dormitories of 25 together, is being constructed without public discussion about the consequences. The CJC has researched the international experience of prisoners dormitories and is concerned that this sytem raises levels of violence, bullying and fear, with damage to prisoner health and recividism. The uncertainty surrounding the concept of a dormitory styled prison is exhibited by plans to demolish the Wellington complex within 5-7 years.Cubicles in the dormitories will be 3m by 2m with partitions 1.5m high and no door. An increased level of activity will be offered using computers with educational access and potential for email.
We are most concerned about the mental health legislation that is ready to pass the NSW Upper House around the 20th of November. The proposed secrecy for Victim Impact Statements (VIS) denies the forensic victim and offender involvement in the restorative justice process. It is The Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Amendment (Victims) Bill 2018, See schedules 1(8) and 3(2). Research report.
This would mean that the victim does not engage with the offender and achieve an understanding of why the event occurred, and a possible reconciliation. There is no similar provision in the criminal law, as secrecy negates the intention of the VIS. It is a misunderstanding of the whole process.
Research resoundingly supports the benefits to victims achieving that sense of reconciliation with the actions of the offender. The VIS provides a chance for the offender to be confronted with the effect of the offence, and to acknowledge it. Whole processes like circle sentencing, youth conferencing etc are based upon those principles. Restorative justice builds community through forgiveness.
There must be a chance for the forensic patient to ask for forgiveness and have a chance at reconciliation. Often families include both victim and offender, who are all part of this pain and must be supported socially and professionally to heal and move on with better understanding of each other’s needs. To avoid that is to cause more disarray in the longer term. Hearings with the Mental Health Review Tribunal considering leave or release of the patient have the secret VIS tendered each time and are set up to perpetuate the wrong. The forensic patient never knows who said what things against them. Was it my sister or mother’s statement that is holding me here? That situation causes more damage, disempowerment and withdrawn responsibility for the mentally ill person.
The idea that mentally ill offenders are entitled to less rights than those who consciously offended, is a misunderstanding of the basic principles of discrimination law and fairness. It relegates such offenders to having less standing in the court, and infringes upon a fundamental procedural right of our legal system. Lies would be told and never confronted.
It is bullying unpopular and vulnerable people in an attempt to satisfy the pain of the victim, whipped up by the media interest. It’s a King Hit with the system blindfolding the offender and assuming some satisfaction to the victim in that process. In practice it would be dishonest, disgraceful and serve no useful purpose.
This legislation should not be passed in this form, as it is simply the Government responding to media attention without proper analysis and understanding.
This legislation in context.
In 2017 there were three major NSW Inquiries around mental health: the Parliamentary, Wright and Whealy Inquiries.
The Parliamentary and the Wright Inquiries assessed the case of Ms. Miriam Merten who died in 2014 following a brain injury after she fell more than 20 times whilst in the care of Lismore Base Hospital. The death of this patient was captured on CCTV, exposing the callous culture of the mental health system. However, no amendments have been proposed to prevent actual patient deaths due to Health Department employees’ misbehaviour. Section.195 of the Mental Health Act protects perpetrators and remains.
Removing patients’ phones so they can’t have family support or independent advice breaches their right to communication but continues. Computers for communication, personal development and support still are absent. There are no structural changes giving power to the consumers and their families, or standing objective accountability such that embarrassed the whole system with the truth. Instead we have nineteen recommendations that won’t make a difference. Mental patients continue to be abused and exploited with no objection.
The Whealy Inquiry examined the effect of frequent notification to victim’s families of Tribunal hearings. These caused a mother to keep revisiting the traumatic death of her child. Her response was to involve the media, leading to the case becoming sensationalized. The Whealy Inquiry story had a sympathetic victim and a de-humanised villain who was easy to hate and fear, as expressed in the Daily Telegraph article on April 1st 2017 which implied that the Mental Health Tribunal was putting “mad killers back on the streets,” unfounded concerns that were stimulated by insensitive bureaucratic notifications. By sensationalising the story about the disturbed mother of a victim, the media created a storm that was appeased with the Whealy Inquiry. New laws against mental patients are rushed in.
But the government continues to mistreat victims. Compensation was reduced from $50,000 to $15,000 in 2013 despite calls for its return. In practice, the proposed amendments would deny victims the opportunity to properly engage with the offenders and prevent the offender from understanding the impact of their actions, inhibiting the chance for both parties to be part of the restorative justice process.