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New South Wales enacts complete ban on spit hoods

Dechlan Brennan -

NSW has become the latest jurisdiction in Australia to completely ban spit hoods with legislation passing parliament on Thursday evening.

The decision means the device, which has been described as inhumane and like torture, as well as being linked to deaths in custody, will be banned by NSW Police, in NSW adult and youth prisons, and in mental health care settings.

Latoya Rule, who lost their brother and Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man Wayne Fella Morrison, in the days after he was restrained by a spit hood whilst in custody, tweeted on Thursday night: "SPIT HOODS ARE BANNED BY LAW IN NEW SOUTH WALES! Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard… Let's keep going."

Rule is actively involved in the national Ban Spit Hoods Coalition, who have campaigned for the end of spit hood usage nationwide.

They argue its usage is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention Against Torture; the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), and; the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.

Chief executive of Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) NSW/ACT, Karly Warner said spit hoods are "dehumanising, archaic and harmful".

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be grossly overrepresented at all stages of the criminal legal system and bear the brunt of any harmful restraint mechanism or other use of force by authorities," she said.

"We hope the steps being taken to ban spit hoods across Australia will mean that no one else dies in this cruel and preventable way."

Karly Warner has called spit hoods dehumanising, archaic and harmful (Image: ALS NSW/ACT)

In 2021 Selesa Tafaifa died in Townsville Women's Correctional Centre while restrained with a spit hood and cuffs, saying she "couldn't breathe".

Gomeroi woman and Senior Researcher at the Jumbunna Institute, Alison Whittaker, said spit hoods were instruments of torture, stripping people of "dignity, humanity and life" whilst , Gunggari person and National Director of Change the Record Maggie Munn said whilst the legislation in NSW was significant, work to ban the use of spit good nationwide continued.

After passing the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, the Detention Legislation Amendment (Prohibition on Spit Hoods) Bill 2023 went through the Upper House on Thursday evening with support from all the major parties.

During the Bill's debate, Labor MP Hugh McDermott said it wasn't often all major parties agree on a piece of legislation.

"It pools our agreement because of the barbaric act of using spit hoods in the past [...] There is no place in Australia for such things, or anywhere else," he said.

His fellow Labor MP, Janelle Saffin, called spirit hoods "simply inhumane" during the debate.

"A spit hood presents a risk of choking and asphyxiation, and can cause trauma and injury to or the death of the wearer. Spit hoods must be prohibited because a restraint that has the ability to cause such harm should not be used," she said.

The national Ban Spit Hoods Coalition says spit hoods are a "mesh fabric device that conceals the head of a restrained person".

"Even when they don't kill, spit hoods pose a grave threat to wellbeing and dignity."

NSW becomes only the second state after South Australia to completely ban the device, which has been described as "inhumane" and implicated in deaths in custody.

Victoria has forbidden the use of spit hoods on anyone in detention under the age of 18, and the NT has banned their usage in youth detention centres.

Despite the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture last year recommending a complete ban on the device nationwide, NT opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro has said she is "absolutely supportive" of reinstating spit hoods in NT youth detention centres, arguing the device has "very minimal impact on the offender".

Last year, National Indigenous Times reported on a 17-year-old Indigenous boy who had been subjected to wearing a spit hood in an adult prison.

updated February 9 10:15

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