ACT News


Rights watchdog to investigate case of handcuffed patient

ACT prison and health authorities face an investigation by the territory's Human Rights Commission after a mental health patient spent several days chained to a bed.

The commission's health services commissioner, Mary Durkin, launched her inquiries last week into the incident after it was exposed in a report by The Canberra Times.

The male patient, a prisoner at the territory's jail, was taken to the new Adult Mental Health Unit at Canberra Hospital by corrections officers after a ''serious incident'' at the Alexander Maconochie Centre last month. But staff at the unit were disturbed when handcuffs were used to shackle the man to a bed for much of his five-day stay at the unit.

Prison officers insisted on the treatment, arguing it was the only way to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner and other patients.

In a statement in response to questions from The Canberra Times, a Health Directorate spokesman said the use of the cuffs was justified by ''non-compliant, unpredictable and aggressive behaviour'' in a detainee.

But mental health advocates condemned the man's treatment and Ms Durkin said on Monday she was sufficiently concerned to launch an investigation on her own initiative.


''I have decided to do an investigation, I'm happy to confirm that,'' Ms Durkin said.

''The concerns that were identified in The Canberra Times were sufficient to lead me to believe that it would be useful to look into the matter and see if policies and procedures were followed appropriately and if there is room for improvement in the future.

''It's what's called a commission-initiated consideration under section 48 of the Human Rights Act which says you can look into anything that can be complained about under the act.''

The commissioner said she had put senior figures in health and Corrective Services on notice that she would be investigating. ''I have let all the appropriate senior management of all the organisations know that I am doing this and am still gathering information at this stage, and we'll be talking to the appropriate people during our inquiry,'' Ms Durkin said.

The offices of Health Minister Katy Gallagher and new Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury have also been advised of the probe.

The minister said on Monday that the incident was ''of concern'' but he would have to see Ms Durkin's report before he took a position on the matter.

The commissioner, who has the discretion to dispense with the need for a full report on the incident, said she hoped to finish her inquiries before the end of the year.

''I would hope to have it wrapped up before Christmas,'' Ms Durkin said.

''I don't have to publish a report and I haven't made my mind up about whether I will.''