Spit hoods still used in Australian immigration detention centres
The federal government has confirmed that spit hoods are still being used in immigration detention centres, and that it has no plans to monitor their use across the country.
Spit hoods are still being used in Australian immigration detention centres on asylum seekers and the federal government has rejected an effort to track the use of the “torture devices” across the country, let alone to ban them.
The use of spit hoods were thrown into the national spotlight in 2016 when a Four Corners report featured shocking footage of a child in a restraint chair wearing a spit hood at the Don Dale youth detention centre.
While a subsequent Royal Commission recommended this practice be banned, it was recently revealed by the NT News that the Northern Territory police have used spit hoods 27 times since 2018 on children as young as 12.
The technique, used to prevent the spread of diseases from spitting and biting, is also available for use in Queensland and the ACT, while South Australia is the only state to have legislated against its use.
The use of spit hoods on adults is also controversial and dangerous, and can potentially lead to a risk of poor ventilation and asphyxiation.
The Department of Home Affairs recently confirmed that spit hoods are still in use across the immigration detention network in Australia.
The Department revealed this in an answer to a question on notice put forward by Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe.
“Yes, there are a number of instruments of restraint that are currently approved for use in the immigration detention network,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in the answer.
These instruments include the “Safariland Tranzport Hood”, which can be used under “limited situations” in immigration detention centres.
“The amount of force used and the application of restraints must be reasonable, and is used to prevent the detainee inflicting self-injury, injury to others, escaping or destruction of property,” the Home Affairs response said.
The spit hoods must “never be applied as a punishment or for discipline”, as a substitute for medical treatment or for convenience, the Department said.
A detailed risk management assessment must be undertaken before the use of a spit hood, except if it’s an emergency.
The use of spit hoods is “subject to stringent reporting requirements and internal and external oversight processes to ensure that force is not applied arbitrarily, or against policy or law”, Home Affairs said.
There have been calls for a national monitoring system for the use of spit hoods across places of detention for several years, including from former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.
But the federal government has said the issue has never been raised at the meeting of Attorney-Generals, and that it is not considering a national reporting mechanism.
“The Commonwealth government is not considering proposals for national reporting on the use of restraints, including spit hoods, in police or correctional custody,” it said.
South Australia is still the only state to have legislated to ban the use of spit hood for people of all ages. This came after it was revealed in 2019 that children as young as 13 years old had been pinned to the floor in custody in the state and forced to wear spit hoods.
The state Ombudsman said the use of spit hoods is “inherently traumatic” and not consistent with the “objects and guiding principles of the youth justice system”.
The state banned spit hoods following a campaign by the family of Wayne Fella Morrison, an Indigenous man who died in custody in 2016 after he had a spit hood placed over his head. Morrison had not been convicted of a crime and was on remand in a prison in Adelaide at the time of his death.
Morrison’s family has now launched a national campaign to ban the practice in all places of detention.
The Ban Spit Hoods Collective has launched a petition with 1500 signatures calling for the tool to be banned nationally.
“We know how dangerous spit hoods are. They are often forcefully pulled onto a person’s head and secured with an elastic band around the neck,” the group said.
“Spit hoods are a threat to human life, dignity and safety.”
The use of spit hoods has also been linked to a number of deaths in custody in the US and UK.
In the UK a 33 year old man was handcuffed, placed in leg restraints and had a spit hood placed on his head hours before he died in custody, saying he couldn’t breath at least 13 times.
In Michigan in 2016 a man died after having a spit hood placed on his head, while in 2016 Tennessee County was ordered to pay a $150,000 settlement in a case involving a detainee who died after officers had placed a spit hood on them.
Amnesty International has labelled spit hoods as a “horrific tool of torture”.
Safariland, the company behind the spit hoods used in Australian immigration detention centres, has also provided them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US, and is a major defence supplies vendor.
Safariland has previously provided tear gas cartridges, crowd dispersal rounds and “explosive ordnance” to the Australian Department of Defence.