Prisoner Abuse in Australia – People with Disabilities


The purpose of this post is to summarize the findings of a report published by Human Rights Watch Australia:

Kirti Sharma, “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished – Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia” (7 February 2018), online: Human Rights Watch <>


Based on a 2018 report posted by Human Rights Watch Australia, the nation faces a grave human rights issue in its prison system. It has been observed that people with disabilities face a wide range of abuse in prisons. Individuals are suffering from bullying, physical, sexual abuse, violence, and lack of resources.


Human Rights Watch visited 14 adult prisons. Based on approximately a year and a half of research across multiple regions in Australia, the report focused on prisons that were geographically diverse, and contained multiple ethnicities and disabilities. Over 100 people with disabilities were interviewed, along with prison staff, health professionals, advocates, lawyers, family members, and government officials.


The report found that prisoners’ rights were being violated constantly. A challenge from the very beginning is identifying disabilities in prisoners. The report found that prisoners were either unaware of a disability, improperly diagnosed or hesitated to disclose their disability out of fear for mistreatment. The report also describes the living conditions of some inmates with disabilities, along with the type of abuse that was occurred.


Sexual violence ranged from unwanted touching to verbal abuse at the hands of other inmates and/or staff. Cases of physical violence were reported, but there is hesitation among victims to do so because their complaints have been and could be deemed untrustworthy. Solitary confinement akin to the experiences of detainees in Guantanamo Bay exacerbate mental health issues within prisoners with disabilities as they struggle with their thoughts in a cell for 22 hours a day. As a result, there is lasting psychological harm in the form of anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and anger (to name a few).


Lack of resources includes little access to bathrooms, kitchens, and comfortable living accommodations. This can be traced to poor infrastructure that does not assist prisoners with physical disabilities who require physical accommodations, such as wheelchairs. Furthermore, issues with overcrowding force multiple people to bunk in cells originally created for one inmate. Prisoners also face lack of access to proper medical care – they are usually seen by nurses after several weeks of waiting; medical staff does not feel adequately trained to assist prisoners.

Part two of this topic will follow later during this week. It will discuss the legal framework Australia is privy to.


This blog post was written by a CCLA Volunteer. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.