A Noongar human rights lawyer says she's worried about the mental health of prisoners being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods after discovering some had been subject to 23 hour 'lockdowns' for up to seven months.
By
Keira Jenkins

Source:
NITV News
25 Sep 2020 - 8:53 AM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2020 - 5:30 PM

A prisoner at Casuarina Prison in Western Australia has detailed how he was held in solitary confinement for a total of seven months under the state’s ‘Disruptive Prisoner Policy’ (DPP).

The DPP was introduced in 2019 to prevent prisoners injuring or influencing others, especially in relation to gang activity.

The policy is now under review after lawyers launched legal action against the West Australian Government, over the use of the policy, saying it was a breach of human rights.

In his statement, the prisoner at Casuarina, who does not want to be identified, said he was first placed in solitary confinement in January 2020.

"I was detained in the cell for 23 hours each day. I was told by the Senior Officer or the prison Superintendent that I was under a policy called DPP.

"I was allowed one hour in a small yard on my own each day. In the yard there is no opportunity to run around and I can only talk to one or two other inmates through a diamond mesh fence. Segregated confinement is like solitary confinement."

The prisoner was moved to the main prison population after legal action against the policy was launched in July.

He said the extended time in solitary confinement in 23-hour lockdown, has severely impacted his mental health.

"The extended time that I spent in solitary confinement has really f**ed with my head. It has made me depressed and angry. You just stare at the walls all day long," he said. 

“Since being back in the mainstream population, I don’t like to mix with other inmates now. I stay most of the time in my cell even though we are allowed out.

“I have a cell mate but it is difficult for me to trust him having spent so much time on my own.

“It has made me paranoid and unsociable. I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”

'Shocking'

Human rights lawyer and Curtin University associate professor Hannah McGlade told NITV News it’s hard to imagine what prisoners who’ve spent this amount of time locked in solitary confinement must be feeling.

“We know that lockdown under COVID is having a mental health impact but people are still free to be in their homes, to go to the shops, to have interactions via zoom or whatever means but this is really unfathomable and I don’t really think we can comprehend it,” she said.

“It’s absolutely shocking that a young Aboriginal man can spend seven months in a  prison ward 23 hours out of 24 in a day according to a policy that really is unlawful and I’m really worried.

Dr McGlade said she, alongside Roe Legal Services, had launched legal action in the Supreme Court after being contacted by families of men who had been held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.

One of the people who contacted Dr McGlade was Tehlia Ryder. 

Ms Ryder's partner Rex Belotti is currently an inmate at Casuarina prison. He was released back into the main prison population when the internal review of the DPP began.

But Ms Ryder said he's now back in solitary.

"He was in solitary for about six to eight weeks," Ms Ryder said.

"That's when we got into contact with Hannah McGlade. They ended up, stopping the policy. They said they’d stop the policy.

"He was let out of solitary confinement. He was out for about six weeks. And then, on Monday I got a call from him for two minutes saying they're putting it back in solitary because last time he was in there, he was charged for fighting in there.

"And so now they put him back down into solitary for one week and then he gets let out for two days. And then he has to go back down and serve another seven days in solitary."

'You can't do anything'

Ms Ryder said being in solitary confinement has impacted her partner’s mental health, and she is concerned about his wellbeing.

"The first day was the worst," she said.

"He just called me and he's like, I can't do this, there’s ‘kill yourself’ engraved all over the walls, and he was just crying and he just had a breakdown to me.

"And that’s, like one of the hardest things is, you're trying to be there to support the person you love, but you can't do anything and knowing that they're being treated like that.

"Like if they're going into solitary, you'd think they would make sure that they don't have that sort of stuff engraved on the walls, that they would fix that before they go in there."

Dr McGlade said the fact that Rex Belotti is back in solitary confinement shows Aboriginal people’s lives aren’t valued in Western Australia.

“[Corrections] is acting in the most callous and negligent manner and putting lives at risk and people here are losing their lives as a result of this and dying,” she said.

“That’s what’s happening now to Rex Belotti Jr, that his health and wellbeing is being completely disregarded by corrections.” 

Ms Ryder wants to see a change in the use of solitary as a punishment, saying it puts unnecessary stress on inmates and their families. 

"I just think it is unnecessary, the use of solitary. I think there's so much better ways they can put in punishment than to do that because it is so traumatising to the prisoner, and also to the families, it's not just the prisoner," she said.

"And just because the prisoners are in there for doing wrong, it doesn't mean that they're not loved that they don't have a family out here still waiting for them to come home.

"We shouldn't have to worry and stress and be concerned, if they make it out of there."

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