By Brett Collins

In a shocking revelation at a Mental Health Review Tribunal hearing in February, a Justice Health psychiatrist has admitted under cross examination that a prisoner is being forcibly medicated because he is “annoying” and may provoke other prisoners to attack him.  The doctor argued that by putting himself in danger he could be defined as a mentally ill person. Our lawyer demanded that he be left alone and treated as a non-violent elderly person entitled to dignity and humanity, and that he gets the ‘care‘ as the Act directs.

The Tribunal refused to allow Justice Action to give evidence or listen to the proceedings by phone although the law requires the hearings to be public. As his only community support, the prisoner named us as his primary carer, having mentored him for ten years. We are in daily contact with him and have reconnected him with his family. The man has told us ‘I’m not the only one they’re doing this to. Doctors used to help you if you asked them, but now I fear them more than the guards.’ Under the Act, he cannot use his own name to protest about his treatment.

This elderly man’s treatment by Justice Health and Corrective Services undoubtedly amounts to torture. For 15 of his 20 years in jail, the prisoner has been held in effective solitary confinement in super maximum security despite his non-violent prison history. He is moved from cell to cell every four weeks, which denies him the stability of a home. When out of his unit, he is put in leg irons and handcuffs. He is assaulted and his possessions smashed while guards watch. He is told he is mentally ill and forcibly medicated despite his requests that he be left in peace, have a job and mix with others.

In a Justice Health Report to the Tribunal, factual errors show their lack of care. They have no idea who is or isn’t contacting him. They didn’t disclose to him their concerns of a heart condition as a side effect of their medication, and censured him as demanding when he asked for a toothbrush to clean his teeth. In the past month, even with our intervention, he has only been allowed to brush his teeth 8 times. Unbelievably the report claims that the man ‘has no insight into his mental illness’ but We are hoping to build a therapeutic alliance with him and increase his antipsychotic medication if needed. He is locked for 23 hours a day in a bare cell.

The Minister for Justice Greg Smith and current Commissioner Peter Severin haven’t intervened despite receiving full information, and all other agencies with oversight responsibilities accept this treatment as normal. The prisoner has requested that Justice Action help him appeal to the Supreme Court. We have undertaken to stand beside him, holding a line for our community. We have prepared a case study and our lawyer has tendered it to the Tribunal. ?

Brett Collins is Coordinator of Justice Action

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 117, Autumn 2013