South Australia is on the way to becoming the first state to criminalise the use of spit hoods, five years on from the death of Wayne Fella Morrison.
The Upper House unanimously passed the new laws, which have been a contributing factor to Indigenous deaths in custody.
Wayne Fella Morrison died in the back of a prison van whilst forced to wear a spit hood. Consequently, the Upper House of the SA Parliament has stepped up to ensure that no-one meets the same fate as Fella.
The new law, known as Fella’s bill, pays tribute to the 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man who died after incarceration at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison five years ago.
Mr Morrison was on remand (meaning he had only been charged not sentenced) when an altercation broke out with guards just days before he was due to face a bail hearing.
The inquest heard that the officers cuffed him by his hands and ankles, and they covered his head with a spit hood. They then loaded him face down into the back of a prison van accompanied by seven guards.
Three minutes later, they unloaded him from the van and determined he was unconscious. He died three days later in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Fella’s family have been campaigning for a national ban which has attracted worldwide attention.
“I welcome this step towards accountability, but it isn’t the end for us,” Mr Morrison’s mother Caroline Anderson said.
“The last time I heard my son’s voice was a week before his image became synonymous with these barbaric devices.”
Spit hoods are “Barbaric” Devices
The use of spit hoods on children was the first usage banned across the nation after the revealing Four Corners documentary into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory.
However South Australia was the last to remove the restraints. Children were only alleviated of the torturous devices in 2019.
Other states and territories across the nation still permit their usage for adults.
Lawyer for Dylan Voller, Peter O’Brien outlined the evils of this type of restraint.
“The use of this mechanism is barbaric and contrary to the obligations that Australia has under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Royal Commission in the Northern Territory highlighted the serious issues that arise from the use of such mechanisms of restraint, including the impact on a child’s capacity for reform and rehabilitation” he said.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service welcomed the steps towards legislating a ban on spit hoods. Additionally, they paid tribute to the family’s “tireless advocacy”.
“Spit hoods are dangerous, they’re humiliating, it’s an archaic practice, and they are notoriously involved in black deaths in custody,” NATSILS’s executive officer Jamie McConnachie said.
“Frighteningly, the use of these techniques still exist, they still legally exist in this country. The reality is that this could happen to any of us,” Ms McConnachie said.
Criminal penalties for those using spit hoods
Fella’s Bill, which pundits expect to pass the lower house, will prohibit the use of spit hoods on people of all ages. It will also impose criminal penalties with a maximum two-year prison sentence.
“That is a significant reform and it should send a strong message that under no circumstances are spit hoods to be used as a restraint mechanism in any detention setting across South Australia,” SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros said.