South Australia state the first jurisdiction to ban spit hoods on detainees
The device is used in prisons, immigration detention centers and mental health facilities
Following the death of a local citizen, the Australian state of South Australia has become the first jurisdiction in the country to formally ban the use of spit hoods on detainees.
(A spit hood is a mesh-fabric face covering that is fixed to an individual's neck. The device is used in prisons, immigration detention centers and mental health facilities).
Known as Fella's Bill, the legislation makes it an offence for the employees of corrective and other services to use spit hoods on children and adults within South Australia, and comes with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
The ban comes nearly five years after the death of Wayne Fella Morrison, an Aboriginal man who died in custody after having a spit hood placed over his head. At the time of his death, Morrison had not been convicted of a crime and was on remand at the Yalata Labor Prison, awaiting a hearing in the Adelaide Magistrates Court.
On being restrained (due to the spit hood), he later died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. The inquest into Morrison's death, which has run for three years, is yet to report its findings.
In a statement, Morrison's family thanked those who assisted with their campaign for the legislative ban. They said, "Our family remained hopeful and active in pursuit of this ban when some said it was not possible. With many supporters standing with us these past five years, we are grateful to see this work come to fruition. The ban of spit hoods speaks of the preventability of deaths in custody; including Morrison's. No one has been held accountable for his death. Justice is yet to be seen."
They further mentioned, "We would continue campaigning for a wider national ban. Knowing that today the Parliament of South Australia has heard our pleas to ban the archaic devices, it gives us the confidence that other governments across Australia have the capacity to follow suit."
Thanking everyone, Morrison's sibling Latoya Rule said, "I miss my brother more than ever. I know he would be proud of us all."
The use of spit hoods has received significant public attention in Australia since 2016, after the release of the footage showing the abuse of juveniles held in a youth detention facility in the Northern Territory. They were seen in restraint chairs, with spit hoods over their heads.
It led to the establishment of a Royal Commission, which found that children were, "mistreated, verbally abused, humiliated, isolated or left alone for long periods of time." The report had made 22 recommendations for reforms.
However, the use of spit hoods is not limited to Australia. Amnesty International has condemned the use of the device in the UK and Ireland and in the US, following concerns over human rights breaches.
The Australian Institute of Criminology in its latest report said that at least 471 Indigenous people had died in custody since 1991 when accurate reporting began in Australia.
The report also confirms that Aboriginal people are more than six times as likely to die in police custody and 10 times as likely to die in prison custody than non-Indigenous people in Australia, owing to the disproportionate rates of incarceration.