Sunday, 29 May 2016
Kelly Vincent – 5AA Interview on the Mistreatment of Prisoners, Mental Health Funding Cuts and the NDIS
Andrew Reimer: MLC, Kelly Vincent, did you watch the debate?
Kelly Vincent: I must admit I didn’t.
Andrew Reimer: The attitude about the debate for many people out there is nobody was really interested.
Kelly Vincent: Yeah look and speaking of issues that I think maybe don’t get as much attention as they should, prisoner disabilities in our correctional facilities. We’ve certainly been asking some questions about this over the last couple of weeks to the Corrections Minister Peter Malinauskas. Pretty lack lustre responses so far. We’ve been asking some questions to speak particularly about Prisoner A who you might have heard about who is a prisoner with mental illness who had to visit a hospital for treatment and was shacked to a bed but was shackled to the extent that he currently, according to the Ombudsman’s report, has lacerations to his wrist, abrasions on his wrist and it’s my understanding that corrections staff were offered some softer restraints but denied to the use them and so we have some very, very severe concerns about the treatment of prisoners particularly prisoners with mental illness in our corrections here in South Australia.
Andrew Reimer: Why were the correctional services, why did they reject the softer restraints?
Kelly Vincent: Well I think that’s the question on everyone’s lips. Given that the Ombudsman has had a full investigation into this case and one of the key recommendations from that is that softer restraints should be used where at all possible. I don’t know for sure that softer restraints were offered but that’s certainly what the media seems to be suggesting. If that is the case that softer restraints were offered and not used I think that there needs to be some very good answers as to why that isn’t the case. It’s very disappointing to see Minister Malinauskas come out and talk about public safety but I felt he was quite dismissive of my questions in Parliament. His immediate response was about community safety and talking about community safety in a way that he was sort of alluding to or suggesting that I didn’t care about community safety or that Dignity for Disability doesn’t care about community safety and of course we do. We have to find a way to keep the public safe without not keeping prisoners safe as well. If prisoners are getting lacerations on their wrist from being restrained, we have some very serious concerns. We’d certainly like to see softer restraints used but we’d also like to see a mental health facility in the corrections system so that prisoners can actually get mental health treatment within the prison and perhaps not have to leave our prisons to go to hospital for treatment unless they really have to.
Andrew Reimer: How do you define softer restraints?
Kelly Vincent: Well that would be up to the professionals to do so and we’re certainly…
Andrew Reimer: But are we talking about shackles? What means are we talking about – medication?
Kelly Vincent: Well it’s my understanding that the restraints that Prisoner A was under were metal shackles, so handcuff type things but they were applied so tightly that he got physical injuries from the restraints. There has to be a better solution that particularly if you’re already are at the hospital due to mental illness and you’re probably already distressed and being restrained to that extent might exacerbate the symptoms of your mental illness. There has to be a better way forward but exactly what that looks like I think I’ll look for some answers from the correctional services medical professionals as well.
Andrew Reimer: You’ve got your leather restraints which would be a softer option?
Kelly Vincent: Absolutely. I’ve visited some mental health facilities where there are some better solutions in place where people can either be given some sedative medication for a while until they calm down or they can be left alone in a room so they’re not overly stimulated and they can get the distress out of their system and they are still being monitored of course. There are some solutions that we need to look at. We also need to look at having better mental health supports in prison so that people can actually get the treatment in prison in a familiar environment without needing to leave and to be transported and so on.
Andrew Reimer: Well you’d be aware the Minister for Disabilities Leesa Vlahos, she announced yesterday that the Government had informed her of $5m in cutbacks to Oakden, the facility up there with correctional services but also to mental healthcare for the northern suburbs full stop. So it doesn’t look like what you’re looking for is going to be forthcoming anytime at least from the Federal Government when it comes down to the restraints and the practice used by correctional services I think we’d probably need to be looking at the guidelines and policy which is in place which may be the reason for the correctional services officers declining the use of softer restraints, because the policy because they’re dealing with a person who is a prisoner the guidelines state that they should be using handcuffs shackled using handcuffs at all times. It could be the policy, the guidelines as opposed to the blame being put on those correctional services staff.
Kelly Vincent: Absolutely, I’m not out to blame correctional staff at all. But from my reading of the Ombudsman report into this it does seem as though some further surveillance checks or compliance checks should have picked up the fact that this prisoner did have abrasions and they didn’t seem to so it does seem that while some procedures were followed perhaps others were not followed as closely as they should have been and that maybe this prisoner should have been monitored a bit more closely so that their injuries were detected and that measures could have been put in place to alleviate them. I’m not out to blame correctional services. There has to be a better way forward because I think that the very point of prison should be rehabilitating people to go back into the community and given that it costs on average between $70,000-$100,000 per prisoner, per year to keep someone in prison we need to be investing and making sure that people are supported and getting the tools that they need to reintegrate back into the community.
Andrew Reimer: When it comes to incarceration too many people with mental health conditions are behind bars when they should be in some sort of other facility which would accommodate them a lot better and help in their treatment.
Kelly Vincent: Absolutely and that’s true of not just people with mental health but all claims of disability there are people who have disabilities who may have committed an offence but don’t actually understand that they have done so because of the nature of their disability so that’s in very complex legal terminologies called ‘not guilty by way of mental incompetence’. It’s not a very sort of politically correct terminology but it’s the terminology that gets used in the legal system and so these are people who may have done something wrong but don’t necessarily understand that they have done that they might even – or they often do in fact end up going to prison anyway because there’s no community accommodation available to them or supportive services to help them recover and learn the error of their ways. It’s not just people with mental health but people with a variety of conditions, people with acquired brain injury, particularly Aboriginal people are often in prison for simple parking infringements or traffic infringements or fine evasion because of the nature of their disability they may not be able to comprehend that they’re not deliberately evading the fine or committing an offence. Rather than invest in very costly prisons I’d much rather see this money going towards supporting people to be in community housing and to learn to live more independently and in a way of course that doesn’t see them committing offences. There are people that do need to be in prison that should be particularly those who’ve committed very violent crimes. The picture that we often get of a prisoner where everyone there has deliberately done something very, very wrong is a little bit false. We do need to invest in community support as well.
Andrew Reimer: The National Disability Insurance Scheme, how’s that all rolling out?
Kelly Vincent: I think it’s fair to say it’s been a mixed bag here in South Australia in terms of the rollout. In a nutshell I would say the people who have gone straight onto the scheme they haven’t had any other experience with the older scheme that’s now being phased out, the transition seems to have been a bit smoother but it’s those who have had some experience with the previous scheme that seem to be missing out somewhat and that’s partly because the Government chose to start putting people onto the scheme who didn’t have any services in place and these people who already had services in place further down the track in the rollout that has had the effect of leaving some people who may have services in place but also have the highest level of need and might actually need more support than they’re currently getting, sort of in the lurch. As it rolls out I think that’s something that we do need to be aware of and make sure that we have the services and support available to deal with that at the federal level as well I think the conversation about the future funding for the NDIS is something that we need to be aware of some Federal MPs seem to have forgotten that their original Productivity Commission report which actually recommended the NDIS showed that within a few years it would basically pay for itself because of the greater community and economic participation of people with disabilities and family carers that it would allow. We already have the Medicare Levy there are some measures in place to allow for the future funding of the scheme that seem to have been forgotten about which is I think of great concern given that I think that this is a scheme we can’t afford not to have.
Andrew Reimer: We definitely the scheme despite the optimism the funding can’t always be there, this could end up in tears further down the track.
Kelly Vincent: Look you used the word ‘optimism’ there I’m not sure that that’s the word that I would use. There are problems with the scheme but again the fact that in the last Federal Budget just a few weeks ago we saw the rollout of the NDIS to allow for future funds for the NDIS. No-one’s denying that we do need a sustainable economic future for the NDIS but our big concern is that those savings will come from things like cuts to disability support pension or loss of support to single parents and other people on low income and certainly it’s one thing to cut eligibility to the disability support pension but those who are able to work should be doing that and not living on a pension where at all possible. We need to address the many barriers that actually exist for people with disabilities getting into work in the first place, so rather than tackling the issue that’s targeting the very people that scheme is supposed to provide for I think there’s lots of other government waste like having people in prison at an average cost of $86,000 a year, per person, per year in the prison if they don’t have to be there. That’s one area of government that we could use to fund the scheme rather than targeting the very people who need it.
Andrew Reimer: Nice to talk to you.