In the Media

Kelly Vincent – Radio Adelaide Interview on the Incarceration of People with Disabilities in the Corrections System

On Tuesday 26th April 2016, Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent was interviewed on Radio Adelaide to discuss issues concerning the incarceration of two young men with disabilities within the corrections systems. A mother of one of the young men was also interviewed and discussed her concerns with the correctional system. Here is the transcript from the interviews.

Pascale: Prisoners with a cognitive disability are over represented in South Australia’s correctional system, this not only highlights the problematic way our Government is treating people with disabilities, but a broader misunderstanding of cognitive disabilities and surrounding issues. Recently Kelly Vincent raised in Parliament the story of two young men with intellectual disabilities who she argues the correctional system has failed. Good morning. Can you briefly explain the situation of the two men whose story you raised in Parliament?

Kelly Vincent: Briefly, the first man with an intellectual disability, who I do understand is in for an offence of some kind so he served his time for that offence in prison but then was continually kept in prison long after that time was up. As I understand it was because the Government couldn’t find appropriate accommodation for him to return to the community so basically he had no home to return to and for that reason was kept in prison. And then in the second case I understand, a young Aboriginal man who has a long history of physical and sexual abuse, as I understand it coming from his childhood. I also understand he has an intellectual disability including literacy issues and also potentially some issues around mental illness. My understanding is he has been back in prison because of breaching parole conditions but it’s also my understanding that he actually possibly doesn’t understand that he’s breaching parole conditions in the first place.

Pascale: Now are these just two cases that you’ve come across or are they indicative of a broader problem that we’re facing here?

Kelly Vincent: Certainly, we do know on a national level it seems that people with disabilities are over represented in prisons particularly people either diagnosed or undiagnosed intellectual disability or things like foetal alcohol syndrome or even just low literacy levels that might be a borderline intellectual disability. It does seem that we don’t invest enough in making sure that people (a) actually understand what constitutes criminal behaviour and so that they don’t offend in the first place and (b) that we don’t invest in making sure that people get better education and support around them including advocacy and legal support to make sure that they don’t reoffend.

Pascale: What are the fundamental issues here with incarcerating people who have disabilities?

Kelly Vincent: Well, we need to make sure that we invest in respecting people with disabilities enough to educate us about what does constitute criminal behaviour and anti-social behaviour, anecdotally it seems that people with disabilities often miss out on things like relationships or education about respectful relationships and appropriate social behaviour and I think that’s because we simply don’t expect people with disabilities to enter into any type of meaningful relationship or we believe we’re keeping them safe by not providing them with education. But it’s my observation that unfortunately quite the opposite is true because if you do have desires to enter into friendships or even sexual or romantic relationships, nothing about not being educated about that will stop you from doing that, it will simply stop you from doing it safely or as safely as you might otherwise be able to do. So firstly, we need to invest in educating people in how not to offend and how to go about their right to have a respectful and meaningful relationship. Secondly, we need to make sure that when people do commit an offence they’re supported by the legal system and correction system enough so not to reoffend and how to stay out of prison. So that includes providing information about their parole in a way that’s successful to them whatever that might mean. Thirdly, we need to make sure that Corrections, Housing and Disability Departments of Government work together to provide alternative accommodation other than prison. I think there’s a bit of a false argument that at the very least people are in prison, they have a roof over their head and I think that is a false argument because that argument stops us from really pushing for better standards and for us to meet our obligations to these people, which is of course that we provide them with accommodation according to their own needs and to community standards because I don’t think would be in prison.

Pascale: Was thinking of that argument that at least they have a roof over their head, but you’ve stripped them of their rights by keeping them in prison?

Kelly Vincent: Absolutely, as a Government and as a society we have obligations to work for our citizens, disability or no disability and I don’t think anyone would accept that living in prison, either having committed no offence or been found guilty of no offence, but even having served your time for that offence, still be in prison. I don’t think anyone really accepts that that’s really an acceptable solution so we do need to work together, accept that that’s never a solution, that that’s never acceptable, and as a community to work together to find the appropriate solution which would be of course that people find appropriate accommodation according to their own needs and according to I think what most of us would accept as general community standards.

Pascale: You questioned the Corrections Minister, Peter Malinauskas over the Senate Inquiry into the indefinite detention of people with cognitive disability and mental ill health, has there been any follow up into either of their cases that you raised or since the inquiry to the Corrections Minister?

Kelly Vincent: Certainly, the Corrections Minister did undertake to go away and find out more information and come back with a response and I understand that he has been in contact with my staff since to get some more details. So certainly we’re hoping for a good response from the Minister about these two cases but again, it’s not really about these two cases, unfortunately these cases are just symbolic of the way the correction system is failing people with disabilities. Certainly we’re looking for a positive response from these two cases to better support these two particular men but what is needed is a more broader, systemic response as I outlined before.

Pascale: Since you raised this in Parliament have other stories come forward?

Kelly Vincent: No, not that I’m aware of anything specific but certainly we have dealt with similar cases before and unfortunately I don’t think it will be the last time given that this a pretty endemic issue and it is under reported and we don’t actually know how many people with disabilities or at least identified disabilities are in prisons. And I think that’s part of the problem is that we don’t even know the size of the problem that we’re dealing with and that was one of the questions that I put to the Corrections Minister, was how many people with disabilities are actually known to be in prison at this point in time, because I think it’s important that we identify the size of the problem that we are dealing with so that we know how to move forward and find overall solutions.

Pascale: On these solutions what practical things do you think we can implement now to start to shift this problem?

Kelly Vincent: Respecting people with disabilities enough to invest in them and providing the education and support that any other person might take for granted and that includes education about what constitutes appropriate behaviour in avoiding criminal prosecution, but also education that respects us and allows our right to go about a respectful, meaningful, peaceful life. Including appropriate sexual education, for example because we know that some people with disabilities unwittingly engage inappropriate and illegal sexual behaviour simply because, not because they want to do anything wrong but because no-one’s actually sat them down and told them, in a way that’s accessible to them, that doing this could hurt other people or hurt you and get you into trouble. So firstly we need to respect people enough to give them the appropriate education to avoid engaging in criminal behaviour and that’s certainly something we could start. Now there are some organisations that do a lot of great work in this area but certainly there needs to be a lot more available particularly in schools.

Pascale: Thank you.

Kelly Vincent: Thank you for your interest in this important issue.

Pascale: We heard earlier from Kelly Vincent about her concerns with the incarceration of South Australians with mental illness and cognitive disabilities. Linda is a mother of a 27 year old man who has serious mental health issues who has been incarcerated and charged with a violent crime. He was originally in Yatala Prison, then moved to Holden Hills Police cells for a month before being moved to Pt Augusta Prison. Good morning. Can we start by discussing your son’s mental health and current conditions he finds himself in?

Linda: Yes, he’s diagnosed with homicidal ideation and also schizophrenia and first hand I’ve seen psychosis as well and that resulted in his prison sentence.

Pascale: Now we’ve just grown through the different ways he’s moved through the correction systems, tell me about what he’s being going through the past few months?

Linda: It’s really hard because I can only wait for a phone call from him. I don’t know where he is, I can’t send money to him to make phone calls so we just sort of get erratic phone calls from him. I’ve spoken to him maybe three or four times and his ex-partner also speaks to him so the lawyers not told where he is either, his lawyer until we actually contact her.

Pascale: And so when he was in Yatala or Holden Hill or even Pt Augusta are you able to visit him?

Linda: I wasn’t able to visit Yatala, you can’t actually get through, like trying to make a phone call to get through to book an appointment, my father tried 30 times in one day trying to get through. Holden Hill cells you’re not allowed to, he was meant to be there for 28 days but he was moved to Pt Augusta after about 12 days in. So when he moved to Pt Augusta we didn’t hear from him for a week until he phoned. Now I know that I can actually send money to him in Pt Augusta so that he can start making phone calls to us again.

Pascale: Are you able to visit him in Pt Augusta or do you have to make an appointment as well?

Linda: Still have to make an appointment

Pascale: What are your concerns about your son being incarcerated in cells in prisons rather than any other type of facility like James Nash House?

Linda: I’m just concerned that he’s not getting the right treatment, if any treatment. I don’t know if he’s getting any treatment at all, so I don’t know if he’s on any medication to get him off, detox off any treatment.

Pascale: What kind of support does he need for his mental health and his health?

Linda: I think he needs as you said earlier, James Nash House is obviously a facility, I understand that’s a prison as well, but that’s got the correct people working there so mental health trained people, I don’t think prison officers have got a lot of mental health training and just to be in a place where he’s more comfortable, he’s not with people – I don’t think he even realises what he’s done.

Pascale: How have other prisoners being treating him, what’s he telling you when he’s calling yo?

Linda: The reason he was put into Holden Hill was because he needed to go into protective custody because of the severity of the crime so that’s why he was moved, so he couldn’t actually stay in Yatala for his own safety.

Pascale: Right, when you want to find anything out about your son’s situation are you able to contact corrections at all, your son’s not of, he’s not a minor, he’s 27. What access do you have to finding about his welfare?

Linda: No access at all, I can’t even find out, even when we sort of lost contact with him for that week when he want from Holden Hill to Pt Augusta, you can’t find any information at all. They just hang up on you, you can’t get any information and that’s the reason he’s not a minor, he’s an adult and he makes choices so they say, but we can’t get any information and even we can’t get any information from the lawyers unless he signs a notification, freedom to speech sort of thing on his behalf, but that information, that paperwork hasn’t even been given to him, so he doesn’t know about it until I speak to him again to let him know about it.

Pascale: How long has this been going on for you and your family?

Linda: 3rd March he was incarcerated.

Pascale: What steps are you taking now?

Linda: First step I actually want to go and see him so I’m hoping to phone today and book an appointment but even that, it’s only like an hour and 45 minutes you’ve got to phone to make an appointment, goodness knows how many other people are going to be phoning at the same time.

Pascale: Have you raised this with the minister at all, we know that you’ve raised this with Kelly Vincent?

Linda: I’ve raised it with Kelly, I haven’t at the moment with the minister but I will be definitely be doing that today.

Pascale: Thank you.

Linda: Thank you.