People with disability suffer cruelty and maltreatment in detention: report

The extent of neglect and abuse suffered by people with disabilities in prison and custody systems in Australia has been revealed.

People with disability are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in incarceration. Those are the findings of a new report led by researchers from UNSW Sydney, which unveils the systemic and ongoing maltreatment and harm that occurs when people with disability are detained in Australia.

Vulnerable people are held in solitary confinement, are detained indefinitely, have their medications withheld, suffer physical and sexual assault, and are regularly humiliated, the report finds. It also uncovered the demeaning and dehumanising practices that people with disability regularly experience in places of detention, including being strip searched and having to beg for sanitary products.

“I’m aware of disabled children put into solitary confinement and people with intellectual disability strapped into restraint chairs and injected with tranquilisers,” says Mr Patrick McGee, Churchill Fellow and Coordinator Australians for Disability and Justice, who is the first author of the report. “They are scared, they are fearful, there is no one to tell them what is happening or when it might end.”

Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of People with Disability in Places of Detention shines a light on the lived experience of people with disability in institutional detention settings. It details the findings of a National Forum attended in 2023 by academics, researchers, and advocates to produce a blueprint for state and territory governments to safeguard people with disabilities in detention and protect them from institutional ill-treatment and abuse.

“Australia regularly detains young people and adults with disability every year,” says Dr Maree Higgins, Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture, and co-author of the report. “Some are held indefinitely; others cycle in and out of prisons and other places of detention.

“Many are subjected to traumatic, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

/Public Release. View in full here.