Sexual abuse in Australian prisons

by Gerry Georgatos
February 19th, 2014

Joyce Capewell

A Kimberley mother, who has corresponded with The Stringer for nearly a year, has lodged complaints that her son, who is in prison is on a near daily basis sexually abused and that prison staff “turn a blind eye.”

The Aboriginal Legal Services will visit the young man next Tuesday at Geraldton’s Greenough Prison. We hope that soon the Department of Corrective Services and the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services will respond to us, they were only notified this morning.

The mother said that young Aboriginal men, and not only women, are sexually harassed, abused and assaulted – that they are more vulnerable and less likely to complain than non-Aboriginal prisoners. She said her son is being assaulted nearly every night and that he is at breaking point.

“(Corrective Services) are not taking care of our children, they are not taking care of our people. Our children are coming out of prisons worse than they went in, they are broken.”

“Our young men are being sexually abused and beaten down. They go silent, they are being ruined of any hope. They come out all silent, stay silent, stay apart from family and community and then distance themselves even further.”

“They sit silent in far away corners, hiding their pain, disguising it with other anguish, drugs or whatever, some get into trouble while others never connect again with family and community.”

“It is a terrible problem not only in Perth prisons, at Casuarina and at (Geraldton’s) Greenough but in all the State’s prisons, and all over Australia. Our people just keep on suffering and no-one in the prisons are looking out for them, or listening to them.”

The mother said that to date prison Indigenous Support Officers and the Aboriginal Visitors Scheme (AVS) had not supported her son but that she hoped that they could be called in. For the time being the AVS is not operational at Greenough Prison, and was last together at Greenough nearly two years ago – with the last AVS officer Joyce Capewell, dismissed from service after blowing the whistle amid a swathe of complaints on a double suicide attempt by two brothers at Greenough prison.

The mother said that her anguish over her son’s ordeal extends also to the long untold story of “large scale sexual abuses in Australian institutions that no-one is talking about.”

“Do we have to wait another generation or two before some sort of inquiry begins of what goes on in our prisons like we now know went on in churches, orphanages and the like?”

“If we have a national inquiry now we can save the minds and lives of our young people, and we will find that this will contribute to reducing the trauma of suicides and the high re-offending rates.”

A former Greenough inmate who met with The Stringer mid last year confirmed the blind eye silence to sexual abuse and assaults at Greenough Prison.

“We have no-one to turn to but it happens and happens all the time.”

“We had relied on the AVS, our own people, to talk to but they’re gone now. They’re are people in Greenough from the Kimberley, from the deserts, Martu people, others who don’t speak much English, who don’t understand western culture, who don’t trust the system, who have don’t know how to read and write, and without the AVS people, like Aunty Joyce (Capewell) who we turned to now gone, we have no one, white people no matter their qualifications have no clue. We don’t speak to them.”

“Prisons are a bad place, they break us so bad that too many of us are sent back again and again.”

Restorative justice academic Dr Brian Steels, who is based at Perth’s Curtin University, has described the Australian prisons systems as a “penal estate” and that it is “a broken, failed system” that needs to be overhauled and reformed as a restorative experience.

From a racialised viewpoint, Western Australia incarcerates its First Nations adult males at the world’s highest rate.

One thought on “Sexual abuse in Australian prisons

  1. This is a problem around the world. The U.S. recently took some steps to try to address the issue. Torture shouldn’t be part of anyone’s sentence.

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