South Australia has unanimously voted to ban spit hoods

The state’s upper house has backed Fella’s Bill, named after Aboriginal man Wayne Fella Morrison who died after being made to wear a spit hood by Adelaide prison guards five years ago.

Wayne Fella Morrison's sibling Latoya Rule in Adelaide.

Wayne Fella Morrison's sibling Latoya Rule in Adelaide. Source: Charandev Singh

South Australia is set to become the first jurisdiction to criminalise the use of spit hoods - a controversial head restraint that has been a factor in some Aboriginal deaths in custody.

The state’s upper house unanimously supported the move in a late-night vote on Wednesday, meaning the head or face coverings will be prohibited in corrections, police and mental health settings when it is formally endorsed by parliament. 

Fella’s Bill, as the prohibition legislation is known, pays tribute to Wayne Fella Morrison, a 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man, who died after being held at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison five years ago. He was made to wear a spit hood and put in the back of a van after an altercation. 

Wayne Fella Morrison, who died after being made to wear a spit hood, and his sibling, Latoya Rule.

It follows a sustained campaign by his family for a national ban, which has already attracted worldwide attention and prompted a decision to phase out the use of the restraints in South Australia’s correctional services.

“I welcome this step toward accountability, but it isn’t the end for us,” Mr Morrison’s mother Caroline Anderson said.

“The last time I heard my son’s voice was a week before his image became synonymous with these barbaric devices.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service welcomed the steps towards legislating a ban on spit hoods and paid tribute to the family’s “tireless advocacy”.

“His family has been staunch and dedicated advocates in pursuit of accountability for his death and against systemic racism," NATSILS’s executive officer Jamie McConnachie said. 

“Spit hoods are dangerous, they’re humiliating, it’s an archaic practice, and they are notoriously involved in black deaths in custody.”

Spit hoods are dangerous, they’re humiliating, it’s an archaic practice, and they are notoriously involved in black deaths in custody.

- Jamie McConnachie, NATSILS

South Australia was the last jurisdiction to ban the use of spit hoods for minors in 2019, after revelations over the mistreatment of inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. But they can still legally be used on adults across other parts of Australia.

A recent report by the Western Australian Government found their use sharply increased since 2016.

“Frighteningly, the use of these techniques still exist, they still legally exist in this country. The reality is that this could happen to any of us,” Ms McConnachi said. 

Family welcomes bill

An online petition supported by more than 26,000 signatures was tabled in parliament by SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros, who backed the bill.

“To Wayne's family,” she said in her address to parliament. “Your passionate, articulate and committed advocacy will ensure no other family will have to endure a pain like yours.”

“That does not happen to one more son, one more brother, to one more father, one more loved one.”

Fella’s Bill, which is expected to pass the lower house, will prohibit the use of spit hoods on people of all ages and impose criminal penalties with a maximum two-year prison sentence.

“That is a significant reform and it should send a strong message that under no circumstances are spit hoods to be used as a restraint mechanism in any detention setting across South Australia,” Ms Bonaros said.

On Sunday, Mr Morrison’s family will mark the fifth anniversary of his death.

Wayne Fella Morrison's sibling Latoya Rule in Adelaide.
Source: Charandev Singh

“From the moment that I saw my brother take his last breath - rather, assisted breath, because he was on life support - since that moment I haven’t been able to process that traumatic event fully,” Mr Morrison’s sibling Latoya Rule said. 

While a coronial inquest into Mr Morrison's death continues, the bill meant there was “some accountability” for his death, they said, and “it would also mean families like mine don’t have to be subjected to such grief and trauma and feelings of unsafety”. 

NITV: Wayne Fella Morrison's family speak out about inquest into his death

Mr Morrison was being held on remand in Yatala Labour Prison when an altercation broke out with guards just days before he was due to face a bail hearing.

The inquest has heard he was cuffed by his hands and ankles and his head covered with a spit hood as he was loaded face down into the back of a prison van accompanied by seven guards.  

Three minutes later, he was unloaded from the van and was unconscious. He died three days later in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. 

Action calling for a national ban on spit hoods.
Source: Charandev Singh

“Throughout his life, he went fishing every day. He was out in the open ocean on his kayak, and to know that he passed away [after being made to wear] a device as archaic as a spit hood obviously caused so much pain and so much grief towards us,” Latoya said. 

The inquest has heard evidence Mr Morrison died from sudden cardiac arrest.

State forensic pathologist Cheryl Charlwood listed a number of contributing factors including genetic disposition,  extreme physical exertion, phycological stress, a state of excited delirium and what she described as a “positional element”.

Under cross-examination by the family’s barristers, she said she could not rule out the possibility he was having trouble breathing.

The prison guards have claimed a legal privilege that enables them to remain silent.

The coronial inquest into the death of Mr Morrison will hear its final submissions in Adelaide next week.

Published 23 September 2021 at 8:57am
By Peta Doherty
Source: SBS News