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Senate committee tables report on the indefinite detention of people with cognitive impairment in Australia

The Community Affairs References Committee has tabled its report into the indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment after a year of gathering evidence.

“Many people would struggle to reconcile that people can be and are being indefinitely detained in our prisons because they have a disability and there are no alternatives for them, but that is a reality in Australia at the moment”, Australian Greens Senator and Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee Rachel Siewert said today.

“People with a cognitive and psychiatric impairment are being detained indefinitely in prisons around Australia, these are predominately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“People are stuck in prisons indefinitely when they are found unfit to plead when in fact they should be receiving therapeutic care in a secure setting or the community. In some States and Territories the judge/magistrate has no alternative other than to put someone in prison indefinitely because there is no alternative.

“Evidence given in submissions and by witnesses show that there are huge gaps in services for people who have been found unfit to plead. At the moment this group of people are being held in prison when they need specialised support such as mental health treatment and secure care.

“For far too long state Governments have got the balance between community safety and individual treatment wrong. Often people are ending up incarcerated because there is no ‘middle ground’ for them, i.e. services that are secure but are run as a health service with therapeutic care.

“The committee has made recommendations that include legislative reform, collecting national data, which currently doesn’t exist, screening people when they first make contact with the criminal justice system and of people already in prison, early intervention services and addressing hearing problems. We need more supported accommodation and more therapeutic care.

“This time last year the committee tabled a report into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability in institutional settings which made a number of recommendations, our recommendations reiterate a number of these. I urge the Government to act on those recommendations and to not let the report tabled today sit on the shelve for a year as well”. 

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