Miriam Merten Overview
Justice Action submitted a report to the NSW Health Department Inquiry after the death of Miriam Merten, mother of two and a mental health patient from Lismore Base Hospital. Miriam died on 3rd June 2014 from injuries sustained during her time in seclusion. The horrific nature of Miriam’s treatment was evidenced with shocking CCTV footage of her final hours, exposing the lack of care from the NSW Health Staff at Lismore Base Hospital along with their abject failure to intervene in her untimely death.
Ms Merten died in 2014 from a brain injury after she fell more than 20 times whilst in the care of the Mental Health Unit of Lismore Base Hospital. The coronial inquest into Ms Merten’s death found that Ms Merton died from a "traumatic brain injury caused by numerous falls and the self-beating of her head on various surfaces, the latter not done with the intention of taking her life". Disturbing CCTV footage of the neglected, blood and faeces splattered, Ms Merten wondering the corridors of the Lismore facility on the night of her death have emerged, and be viewed in this article.
Brett, Saeed, Geoff and Kassia at the Mental Health Open Day 2012
LATEST NEWS ON SAEED'S CASE
Saeed Dezfouli is a forensic patient who has been in detention since 19 January 2002 and could be held indefinitely despite doing an act normally punished with a short sentence. During this time, his rights have constantly been abused, he has been forcibly medicated and is under the Health Department's total control.
He is still being held in the highest security facilities, despite being a non-violent person who never intended the harm he caused. Saeed’s battle represents the universal struggle of mental health patients against the state’s attacks on their personal integrity. It concerns the right to not be assaulted, the right to education, and the right to person-centred health care - all of which are breached in Saeed’s case. The State’s callous indifference and abuse of mental patients rather than fulfilling their duty of care is the worst expression of community responsibility in a system costing over $200,000 a person a year.
Saeed brought proceedings in the Supreme Court, regarding a review of his treatment, back in February 2010. He sought the following orders:
- That the forensic hospital cease forcibly medicating him against his will;
- That he be given access to a computer donated to the hospital by the students of the University of NSW for educational purposes
- To cease psychiatric treatment from his then-current psychiatrist to be replaced with treatment from a psychiatrist of his choice.
To this day, despite our support, Saeed has not been able to achieve any of those aims even though they are basic to publicly stated person-centered health care.
Force and the abuse of power over vulnerable people is central to the mental health culture, and the medicalisation of social problems is basic to it. Tribunal support for a consumer worker allocation and computer access has been ignored by the hospital.
He has appealed to the Supreme Court three times to force assistance from the Mental Health Review Tribunal. Justice Action incurred a $60,000 court costs order with an arrest warrant and garnishee order issued until it was withdrawn in February 2015.
Justice Action stands beside Saeed as a focus person and his primary carer in this battle for human rights.
Read more about Saeed's story here.
Listen to ABCs 'The Man without a Name' here.
Here is a list of major issues relevant to Saeed Dezfouli's case:
Legal Proceedings & MHRT Hearings
On the 29th of November 2018, Malcolm Baker appeared before the Mental Health Review Tribunal to review his treatment order. Mr. Baker’s previous hearing on the 16th of August 2018 ordered a cease of forced administration of medication, and consequentially, Mr. Baker has been without medication since June 2018. Despite the implementation of these changes, Mr. Baker’s treatment order has not been formally amended. The purpose of this most recent hearing was to review the need for an ongoing treatment order. The Tribunal considered our Personal Management Plan for Malcolm Baker - the submission can be read here.
Opening the Tribunal, the lead psychiatrist’s opening statement proved that Mr Baker is mentally stable, drawing emphasis to the fact that he is not delusional and has not displayed any new psychotic symptoms since receiving the active order. The psychiatrist explained that Mr Baker’s experiences of paranoia are a result of traumatic events that have occurred both during his childhood and his imprisonment. Whilst Mr Baker may experience episodes of paranoid thinking after a traumatic or stressful event, it is important to note that these symptoms are transient and diminish within a few hours, rather than being serious signs of mental instability.
At the Tribunal, there appeared to be unanimous agreement that Mr Baker is not “a risk of serious harm to himself or others”, thereby exempting him from the legal definition of a ‘mentally ill person’ under s14 of the Mental Health Act. Consequentially, therapeutic intervention was agreed to be the preferred form of treatment for Mr Baker, rather than an ongoing plan for forced medication.
All persons at the hearing stressed the importance of ensuring Mr Baker would reside in a safe environment, and there was lengthy discussion about whether this will be best provided at Long Bay Hospital where Malcolm is currently held, or within the mainstream prison system. The lead psychiatrist advocated for psychological treatment within the hospital to assist Malcolm in building skills to re-enter the prison system. However, the psychiatrist also pointed out the benefits of Mr Baker returning to the mainstream prison system including access education, work, and the opportunity to effectively “make a life for himself”.
Nevertheless, the Tribunal has reserved making a formal judgement. They are expected to do so upon further deliberation in the next few weeks. Justice Action believes that it is possible to guarantee Mr Baker a ‘safe living environment’ in the prison system provided negotiation is constant between judicial and corrective NSW services. Mr Baker will continue to receive support from Justice Action and his family - the Tribunal agreed that Mr Baker would benefit from regular visits with renowned mental health consumer advocate Douglas Holmes. Justice Action deems the hearing a success and is optimistic about the outcome for Malcolm Baker's future.
Computers in Cells International Survey
Petition: Call for Computers in Cells for Juvenile Detainees
University of Southern Queensland Presentation
JA Juvenile Justice Summit Leaflet
Juvenile Justice Summit Agenda 4-5 May 2017
The subject of youth crime has been one of much public debate over the last few years. Statistics demonstrate that many youths who resort to crime face serious social and economical marginalisation. Furthermore, our juvenile clients commonly report experiences of neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Justice Action believes that major changes have to be made to the current youth justice system in order to combat these ongoing concerns.
Continued funding should not be given to juvenile detention centres; rather, the underlying systemic inequalities that youth offenders face must be immediately addressed. Tax dollars should instead be redirected towards furthering youth education and rehabilitation programs for young offenders; housing initiatives; and creating community centres and after-school initiatives, amongst various other things. This is the only way to either combat youth crime before it starts or break the vicious cycle of crime in which young offenders are trapped.
Click here for detailed proposals for mentoring and justice.
COMPUTERS IN JUVENILE CELLS
Computers in cells is a key initiative of Justice Action. The aim of the juvenile detention is supposed to be the rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders. A key part of this rehabilitation is education, which can be facilitated by the provision of computers into the cells of prisoners. Read more here.
About 400 activists, academics and ex-prisoners participated in the ICOPA 18 conference based at Birkbeck campus of the University of London.
It was hosted by the Department of Criminology Birkbeck University of London, Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative, the Open University, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Other participating organisations were the Action for Trans Health, Bent Bars Project, Black Lives Matter UK, Empty Cages Collective, Inquest, IWW London, JENGbA, London Campaign against Police and State Violence, Netpol, North London Sisters Uncut, Race & Class collective, Reclaim Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network, Smash IPP!, Stopwatch and Women in Prison.
Justice Action brought with them a statement from Long Bay prisoners representing prisoners of Australia. (See underneath) This statement of solidarity was read as the final message of the conference on Monday afternoon. JA presented the Computers in Cells victory in Australia and shared the mechanisms for its adoption in all jurisdictions, giving prisoners the right to communication. The JUST US newspaper for people in prison and locked hospitals was distributed.
Academics from Australia and NZ presented their papers on abolition. The history of the anti-carceral feminist actions called Wring Outs in the 1980s and 1990s in Melbourne was presented by Emma Russell and Bree Carlton. Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill described resistance against Maori criminalisation and the Robson Collection in Napier Library supported by ICOPA in NZ in 1997. Community policing protecting sex workers in NZ was described.
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA18) highlights in 15-18 of June 2018:
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA 18) Summary:
Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill interview ICOPA18:
These videos are on YouTube now! For more details:
International Conference on Penal Abolition (Justice Action): http://justiceaction.org.au/prisons/prison-issues/icopa
ICOPA 18 website: https://icopa2018.com/
ICOPA 18 Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReclaimJustice
ICOPA 18 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Abolitionist-Futures-154837165177628/
ICOPA website: http://www.actionicopa.org/
ICOPA 19 will be in Miami US in mid 2019.
iExpress: Now launching prisoners & mental health patients online!
Justice Action is proud to introduce iExpress, the world’s first prisoner webpage and interactive email system aimed at empowering people in prisons and forensic hospitals and bringing them into the digitial world, reducing the divide and social exclusion that currently exists. They will now have the opportunity to access an exciting, new channel of self-expression and communication, free of charge. Launch video here.
We are bringing them out of the cells and onto the net! iExpress website
The NSW Government has adopted a new concept in prison architecture to allow an urgent response to an unexpected surge in prisoner numbers. This new form of imprisonment, holding 800 maximum security prisoners in dormitories of 25 together, is being constructed without public discussion about the consequences. The CJC has researched the international experience of prisoners dormitories and is concerned that this sytem raises levels of violence, bullying and fear, with damage to prisoner health and recividism. The uncertainty surrounding the concept of a dormitory styled prison is exhibited by plans to demolish the Wellington complex within 5-7 years.Cubicles in the dormitories will be 3m by 2m with partitions 1.5m high and no door. An increased level of activity will be offered using computers with educational access and potential for email.
We are most concerned about the mental health legislation that is ready to pass the NSW Upper House around the 20th of November. The proposed secrecy for Victim Impact Statements (VIS) denies the forensic victim and offender involvement in the restorative justice process. It is The Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Amendment (Victims) Bill 2018, See schedules 1(8) and 3(2). Research report.
This would mean that the victim does not engage with the offender and achieve an understanding of why the event occurred, and a possible reconciliation. There is no similar provision in the criminal law, as secrecy negates the intention of the VIS. It is a misunderstanding of the whole process.
Research resoundingly supports the benefits to victims achieving that sense of reconciliation with the actions of the offender. The VIS provides a chance for the offender to be confronted with the effect of the offence, and to acknowledge it. Whole processes like circle sentencing, youth conferencing etc are based upon those principles. Restorative justice builds community through forgiveness.
There must be a chance for the forensic patient to ask for forgiveness and have a chance at reconciliation. Often families include both victim and offender, who are all part of this pain and must be supported socially and professionally to heal and move on with better understanding of each other’s needs. To avoid that is to cause more disarray in the longer term. Hearings with the Mental Health Review Tribunal considering leave or release of the patient have the secret VIS tendered each time and are set up to perpetuate the wrong. The forensic patient never knows who said what things against them. Was it my sister or mother’s statement that is holding me here? That situation causes more damage, disempowerment and withdrawn responsibility for the mentally ill person.
The idea that mentally ill offenders are entitled to less rights than those who consciously offended, is a misunderstanding of the basic principles of discrimination law and fairness. It relegates such offenders to having less standing in the court, and infringes upon a fundamental procedural right of our legal system. Lies would be told and never confronted.
It is bullying unpopular and vulnerable people in an attempt to satisfy the pain of the victim, whipped up by the media interest. It’s a King Hit with the system blindfolding the offender and assuming some satisfaction to the victim in that process. In practice it would be dishonest, disgraceful and serve no useful purpose.
This legislation should not be passed in this form, as it is simply the Government responding to media attention without proper analysis and understanding.
This legislation in context.
In 2017 there were three major NSW Inquiries around mental health: the Parliamentary, Wright and Whealy Inquiries.
The Parliamentary and the Wright Inquiries assessed the case of Ms. Miriam Merten who died in 2014 following a brain injury after she fell more than 20 times whilst in the care of Lismore Base Hospital. The death of this patient was captured on CCTV, exposing the callous culture of the mental health system. However, no amendments have been proposed to prevent actual patient deaths due to Health Department employees’ misbehaviour. Section.195 of the Mental Health Act protects perpetrators and remains.
Removing patients’ phones so they can’t have family support or independent advice breaches their right to communication but continues. Computers for communication, personal development and support still are absent. There are no structural changes giving power to the consumers and their families, or standing objective accountability such that embarrassed the whole system with the truth. Instead we have nineteen recommendations that won’t make a difference. Mental patients continue to be abused and exploited with no objection.
The Whealy Inquiry examined the effect of frequent notification to victim’s families of Tribunal hearings. These caused a mother to keep revisiting the traumatic death of her child. Her response was to involve the media, leading to the case becoming sensationalized. The Whealy Inquiry story had a sympathetic victim and a de-humanised villain who was easy to hate and fear, as expressed in the Daily Telegraph article on April 1st 2017 which implied that the Mental Health Tribunal was putting “mad killers back on the streets,” unfounded concerns that were stimulated by insensitive bureaucratic notifications. By sensationalising the story about the disturbed mother of a victim, the media created a storm that was appeased with the Whealy Inquiry. New laws against mental patients are rushed in.
But the government continues to mistreat victims. Compensation was reduced from $50,000 to $15,000 in 2013 despite calls for its return. In practice, the proposed amendments would deny victims the opportunity to properly engage with the offenders and prevent the offender from understanding the impact of their actions, inhibiting the chance for both parties to be part of the restorative justice process.