20 March 2015

Prisons, Mental Health and Human Rights

'Human Rights Protections for People with Mental Health and Cognitive Disability in Prisons' by Anita Mackay in (2015) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law comments
 People with a mental health or cognitive disability are vastly over-represented in the Australian prison system. Investigatory reports by Ombudsmen and similar organisations reveal that there is considerable scope for improving the treatment of this cohort. One avenue for doing so is using a human rights framework, given that Australia’s international human rights law obligations require (among other things) that imprisoned people be treated with respect for their human dignity and, furthermore, recent international research demonstrating that fair and respectful treatment in prison may improve psychological well-being. However, there are considerable challenges involved in implementing this requirement in overcrowded and hierarchical prison settings. It is even more difficult to comply with the legal requirements given the web of provisions at the international, national and State/Territory levels, causing complexity and a lack of clarity as to their interrelationship. This article condenses the requirements into four principles and discusses how these have been applied by courts in relevant international and domestic cases. This analysis aims to assist correctional managers and policy makers seeking to comply with these legal requirements. Such compliance should form part of a multifaceted approach to protecting these vulnerable individuals from further harm.