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camera surveillance. Identified gang leaders are moved away from their power base in an attempt to disrupt the ethnic violence which has taken over Australian prisons in recent decades. Those who might be targeted by other prisoners are placed in solitary for their own safety. Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness Many protests against solitary confinement argue that for many prisoners the real reason they are placed in solitary confinement is mental illness, which is then exacerbated by the conditions of isolation. Speaking to ABC Four Corners, one prisoner described living in the HRMU as brain numbing. ‘[They were] trying to wear me down mentally just to break me down.’ De-institutionalisation of psychiatric hospitals in both Australia and the US led to an influx of the mentally ill into society. Unfortunately, according to Dr Kupers, many of these individuals have ended up in the prison system.

the well being and human rights of inmates. Decisions to place detainees in solitary confinement are often made by correctional administrators instead of mental health professionals. Dr Kupers said neglect to public mental health has resulted in leaving those with serious mental illness vulnerable to arrest and incarceration. ‘We as a society have chosen to neglect this group of disadvantaged people, and they are regularly “disappeared” into jails and prisons.’ Within the prison system the mentally ill are particularly vulnerable to victimisation, or they repeatedly break the harshly enforced rules, which land them in solitary confinement. There is a strong tendency for individuals prone to mental breakdown to do so in solitary confinement. Dr Kupers said that in the course of his career, ‘Many of the most severe and disabling cases of serious mental illness I have seen involve solitary confinement.’

‘There’s no facilities and these people don’t belong in jail,’ said Christopher Binse, a former prisoner at Goulburn speaking to ABC Four Corners.

Not all argue these damaging effects though. Chris Linton, the Clinical Director of Goulburn’s Supermax, claimed there wasn’t a great deal of evidence to support that incarceration in more restricted conditions contributes to poorer mental health. He said that in studies conducted on sixty day segregation orders there was no deterioration in the mental health of inmates. On the matter of longer term isolation, he added, the jury was still out.

A 2008 report by the Australian Human Rights Law Resource Centre stated that the security of prisons is often given greater priority than

Former NSW Commissioner for Correctional Services, Ron Woodham, was asked by ABC’s Chris Masters if prison made the condition of

‘By default [the prisons] are becoming the mental health institutions,’ said one prison worker at Casuarina Prison in Western Australia. ‘We monitor. We medicate.’ One third of the inmates in Goulburn and one fifth in Casuarina have suffered mental disorders.

mentally ill inmates better or worse. ‘In some cases,’ he replied, ‘it keeps them alive.’ One American prisoner who had been held in solitary confinement for twenty-five consecutive years, wrote about his experience in an essay which appeared on the human rights group Solitary Watch website. ‘Though it is true that I’ve never died and so don’t know exactly what the experience would entail, for the life of me I cannot fathom how dying any death could be harder or more terrible than living through all that I have been forced to endure in the last quarter-century.’ William R. Blake was imprisoned in 1987 for the shooting death of a deputy while being transferred from prison custody to court to appear on drug and robbery charges. In his essay, Blake said that, even by his own standards at the time of the shooting, he thought he deserved to die for what he had done, an act he called ‘monumentally wrong.’ In the Special Housing Unit, Blake lived in lockdown for twenty-three hours a day in a cell ‘smaller than some closets I’ve seen.’ He was given one hour of recreation a day, where he was placed by himself in an empty, concrete, enclosed yard. Blake described how twenty-five years in solitary confinement had left him out of touch with the real world due to the restrictions of his imprisonment. ‘I’ve never seen a cell phone except in pictures in magazines. I’ve never touched a computer in my life, never been on the internet.’

United Nations Convention against Torture Members. “CAT-members” by IdiotSavant



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The 3rd edition of AM-UNITY magazine is out now! Just click on the magazine cover on the left to view our latest edition - in it we explore...

Edition 3  

The 3rd edition of AM-UNITY magazine is out now! Just click on the magazine cover on the left to view our latest edition - in it we explore...