A newly released report has confirmed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners and those with a disability are at a high risk of bullying, harassment, violence and abuse from fellow prisoners and prison officers.
Rangi Hirini

7 Feb 2018 - 4:39 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb 2018 - 9:26 PM

A new Human Rights Watch report, titled “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished” investigated 14 adult prisoners in both Western Australia and Queensland, and interviewed 275 people including 136 current or recently released prisoners.

Out of the prisoners interviewed, 41 of them said they had been physically abused and another 32 had experienced sexual violence by fellow prisoners or staff.

In one Queensland prison, six out of eight prisoner carers were convicted sex offenders.

The Human Rights Watch report also states there was strong evidence of racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates in 11 out of 14 prisons.

One Indigenous prisoner spoke about an incident where he was left naked in the yard for several hours.

“Four officers tackled me. I had played up the day before so they were trying to teach me a lesson. The senior officer stood on my jaw while the other hit my head in and restrained me.

“They said, ‘You don’t run this prison little c**t, we do,’ and they cut my clothes off. They left me naked on the floor of the exercise yard for a couple of hours before giving me fresh clothes," the inmate told the report.

“They probably did it to humiliate me. Officers call me ‘black c**t’ heaps of times, it’s normal.”

An Aboriginal cultural liaison officer told Human Rights Watch racism is alive and well in the prisons.

“[Racism] manifests itself in stereotyping: Aboriginal prisoners are all drug addicts, all involved in domestic violence, all are drug-seeking or untruthful,” he said.

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The report also found prisoners with disabilities - including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders - are disproportionately held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day.

Nine out of 14 prisoners who had physical disabilities had to wait for access to a bathroom or they were forced to shower or use the bathroom in conditions the report describes as “humiliating”. 

“I can’t get my chair in. I have to pee in a bottle,” one prisoner told the report.

“I have to wear a nappy every day. I don’t feel like a man; I feel like my dignity is taken away,” another said.

Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about the prisoner-carer model with corrective services, calling for the practice to be stopped immediately.

Kriti Sharma, the report’s author, is also a disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

She said being locked up in confinement is “traumatic” for prisoners with disabilities.

“The services to support a prisoner with a disability just aren’t there. And worse, having a disability puts you at high risk of violence and abuse,” Ms Sharma said.

The report has made several recommendations as a result of their investigation.

One of them was to end solidarity confinement for prisoners with a disability, screen all prisoners as they come into the prison for any possible disabilities, as well as a conduct a study on prisoners with disabilities, particularly Indigenous prisoners with disabilities, to understand their type of disability as well as their needs.

In response, The Greens have called on a Royal Commission into the abuse, violence and neglect of prisoners with disabilities.

First Nations people make up three per cent of the country’s population. However, Indigenous Australians make up more than 28 per cent of the prison population.

According to the Change the Record campaign, if you are an Indigenous male you are twice more likely to end up in prison than you are to go to university.