No wonder NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos doesn’t like the idea of a Victorian style charter of rights for his State. If he did it would mean that mentally ill prisoners would be able to challenge a draconian new regime being introduced in the State’s Long Bay jail hospital at Malabar.

The Long Bay Hospital holds around 120 patients. One ward is reserved for general medical cases while three wards are for mental illness cases. A new hospital, being built next door, is due to be opened later this year.

According to an Inmate Notice posted on March 15 by the General Manager of the Long Bay Hospital, from April 2 patients at the hospital will only be let out of their cells after 8.15 in the morning, have to head back to their cells for 30 minutes between 12 and 12.30pm and then be locked up again at 3.45pm. They will be forced to have their evening meal in their cell, and the only time their cell doors will open between 3.45pm and 8.15am the next morning will be to let medical staff give out pills and provide medical treatment.

Currently prisoners are allowed to remain out of their cells until 9pm in the evening.

In other words, from next month physically and mentally ill prisoners will only be allowed out of their cells for less than 7 hours a day! One does not have to have any great insight into mental health treatment to know that such a regime will be detrimental to a person’s sanity.

According to the Inmate Notice the changes are being made “to get you used to the new routine when we move to the new hospital.”

Brett Collins of the prisoner advocacy group Justice Action “nurses and prison officers say the new regime will be detrimental to patient’s recovery and cause a huge increase in self-harm and suicide.”

There can be little doubt that if a charter of human rights was on the NSW statute books the patients of Long Bay hospital would be able to successfully challenge this Guantanamo Bay style of punishment on the grounds that it is clearly a breach of the fundamental right of anyone deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Since Mr Hatzistergos became Attorney-General in the Iemma government human rights in NSW have been on a downhill slide – at Long Bay Hospital they have reached a new low.