People on remand and serving custodial sentences in Queensland are being held in solitary confinement and denied access to lawyers and adequate medical care, according to two peak community legal services.
Caxton Legal Centre and Prisoners Legal Service say that an array of human rights breaches have been prompted by Queensland’s COVID-19 declaration of emergency.
In a joint statement released today, the organisations identified solitary confinement as being used as a method of isolating vulnerable people, in some cases for 24 hours a day.
Caxton Legal Centre Chief Executive Officer Cybele Koning said that, in some instances, human rights breaches had occurred in direct contravention of Queensland Corrective Services policy.
It is understood recent communication from one correctional centre stated that it was “not operationally viable” to facilitate prisoner teleconferences with lawyers due to staffing limitations.
“Access to lawyers for people in prison is one of the minimum guarantees provided to Queenslanders under the Human Rights Act,” Ms Konig said. “This guarantee is often considered to be the most important and fundamental right to safeguard the fairness of criminal proceedings.
“Whilst we recognise the additional pressure that COVID-19 has placed on corrective services, our lawyers have experienced restrictions in communicating with clients in prison since March.
“When we have technology at our disposal, it is inconceivable that this persistent breach of rights has not been addressed at a systemic level. This needs to be fixed urgently.”
Prisoners Legal Service Director Helen Blaber said the service had also received reports of people in prison not being provided with timely access to medical or mental health care.
“I am concerned that prisoners are not being provided with prescribed medication in the doses or at the times required,” Ms Blaber said.
“For example, we have been told that at one correctional centre medication is only being delivered once per day, or not at all, instead of in the required doses, which might be twice per day.
“Prisoners have a human right to health services, including the provision of medication, which is being restricted without justification.”
Caxton Legal Centre and Prisoners Legal Service said they were aware of situations in which persons who meet the ‘vulnerable prisoner’ criteria had been held in solitary confinement, for at least 22-hours a day with limited outdoor time and restricted calls to family for upwards of four months.
“It is unacceptable to use solitary confinement as a response to the pandemic instead of humane medical isolation,” Ms Blaber said. “We know that solitary confinement is a dangerous practice as there’s a high likelihood that people who experience it will suffer psychological damage.”
A report, ‘Legal Perspectives on Solitary Confinement in Queensland’,released earlier this year, detailed the severe psychological harm caused by solitary confinement.
The community legal services have also been told by people in prison that contact with family had been drastically reduced because of limited prisoner access to phone calls and following a suspension of all personal visits to south-east Queensland correctional centres from 29 July.