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Mar 14, 2012

Serco training manual: how to ‘hit’ and ‘strike’ detainees

A prison-style training manual produced by the company contracted to run Australia's detention centres contains explicit instructions on how to "hit" and "strike" asylum seekers.

A prison-style training manual produced by the company contracted to run Australia’s detention centres contains explicit instructions on how to “hit” and “strike” asylum seekers.

The 400-page, illustrated 2010 and 2009 Serco induction training documents, obtained by Crikey, shows how prison staff are trained to kick, punch and jab their fingers into detainee limbs and “pressure points” to render them motionless.

Serco, which has a $1 billion contract with the Gillard government to run nine asylum outposts, has repeatedly fought the release of similar documents, claiming other versions are not in the “public interest” and could cause commotion inside lockups. (Read the full manual here).

The “control and restraint” techniques included in the 2009 training course manual recommends the use of “pain” to defend, subdue and control asylum seekers through straight punches, palm heel strikes, side angle kicks, front thrust kicks and knee strikes.

“Subdue the subject using reasonable force so that he/she is no longer in the assailant category,” it explains.

“If justified, necessary force is to be used to bring the subject to cooperative subjective status whereupon they respond favourably to verbalisation.”

Under a section headed “principles in controlling Resistive Behaviour”, guards are told to cause pain, stun, distract, unbalance and use “striking technique” to cause “motor dysfunction”.

Guards are told to target specific “pressure points” in the manner of riot squad police to squeeze nerves as ” a valuable subject control option”.

“They enhance your ability, to compel compliance from unco-operative subjects,” it explains. The “expected effect” is “medium to high level pain”.

In one instance, guards, referred to by the government and Serco as “Client Services Officers”, are taught to attack detainees’ jugulars to cause them to fall over.

In another, they are told to employ a “downward kick” to the “lower shin” to cause “high level of pain and mental stunning” lasting up to seven seconds.

Batons are a useful weapon for guards to cause “medium to high tensity [sic] pain” and “forearm muscle cramping”. “Strikes should be delivered by a hammer fist,” it says.

Underpinning the kicking and punching and baton instructions is “two forms of strikes”. The “cutting strike” using a baton, “impacts” the detainee, “continuing through in one fluid motion … this could be equated to following through when swinging a bat”.

The Fluid Shock Wave principle is employed to “…generate optimum fluid shock with a hand, baton or knee”.

The language in the document appears to have been inspired by a prison manual — Serco also operates the Acacia prison 60 kilometres east of Perth. This morning, Fairfax Media reported the Immigration Department had developed its policy on media access by consulting the United States’ rules for Guantanamo Bay. Serco subcontracts some of its security personnel to Indian-owned security behemoth MSS. It is not known whether the training manual has since been updated.

Elsewhere, the document reveals Serco uses “discipline” to encourage guards to think of asylum seekers as children.

The undertaking of a “Detention Discipline” interview “appears to be very similar to the one that many parents adopt in responding to the actions of a son or daughter who appears to have behaved unacceptably”, it explains.

The use of force should apparently only be undertaken by male guards, who are encouraged “to be tough, strong, in the lead, in control and not back down and give as good as you get, show no weakness, win if you can, never mind the cost.”

Women, by contrast, should be “gentle, follow, be compassionate, put others before herself, to share, not to argue and not to get angry”.

Other sections ban direct comment to the media without official approval, “designer stubble”, and ask pertinent questions like “what is fire?”.

Staff are banned from engaging in “partisan political activities that could cast doubt on their neutrality and impartiality in acting in a professional capacity”.

A previous section detailing the “seven methods of intervention” says a “fight option” should only be employed as a “last resort”. There are also directives on pat-downs and how to deal with genitals during strip searches. Strip searches require Departmental approval.

A recent parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s detention laws was told that many guards only required nightclub bouncer-level training.

Last year, the official Serco contract, obtained by New Matilda under freedom of information laws, said guards could be hired with no training and could “obtain a Certificate Level II in Security Operations within six months of commencement”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young read key sections of the training manual to parliament this afternoon.

She told Crikey this morning the guide teaches guards to treat “vulnerable people as if they are prisoners, when they have broken no laws and are asserting their international right to seek asylum”.

“There is nothing in this training manual to suggest anybody working on the ground in our detention centres have the skills necessary to deal with the specific needs of asylum seekers,” she said.

“All it does is teach how to use force. Serco officers themselves have told the immigration detention centre inquiry and their union that they are ill-equipped to deal with mental health issues and suicide prevention training.

“The company and immigration department continue to brush those concerns aside, but this training manual proves those concerns are absolutely valid.”

There are currently about 4783 asylum seekers in detention across Australia as at the end of January.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesperson Sandi Logan issued the following statement:

“The Department did not approve Serco’s training manual; this is a matter for Serco. However when conducting the immigration detention tender, DIAC carefully assessed the capabilities, experience and culture of the bidding companies.”

When asked whether the Department would “intervene to stop sanctioned attacks on asylum seekers”, Logan said the question was “not substantiated by evidence”.

6.53pm UPDATE: Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s office has released the following statement:

The 2010 Serco training manual released today on Crikey is out-dated, is no longer in use, and does not reflect very clear guidelines agreed to by Serco and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on engagement with people in detention facilities.

I am advised that the 2010 manual contained errors and has been superseded by other manuals, most recently the 2012 training guide.

Any use of force or restraint in any detention environment is used strictly as a last resort.

Serco staff in immigration detention facilities do not carry weapons.

As has been reflected in independent reports, such as the recent Hawke-Williams review into last year’s detention incidents on Christmas Island and at Villawood, there are very clear ‘use of force’ guidelines that Serco staff must adhere to.

Defensive actions can only be carried out in response to dangerous and aggressive behaviour and to prevent injury to detainees or staff members. That action must involve the least amount of force necessary to prevent injury and can only be to defend, not to inflict injury.

Appropriate use of restraint may be necessary to prevent a person from harming themselves or others, damaging property or escaping from detention.

Any acts or allegations of improper or inappropriate conduct by Commonwealth officials or Serco employees would be thoroughly investigated and reported to police. Complaints can also be made to the Immigration Ombudsman.

This Government takes very seriously its commitment to ensuring people in immigration detention are treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and within the law.

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6 thoughts on “Serco training manual: how to ‘hit’ and ‘strike’ detainees

  1. Pamela

    Both Labor and Liberal governments have defended their record of detention on the basis that it is “administrative” not “punitive”. If this is so why is there a whole manual devoted to teaching guards how to ensure compliance through pain.
    The manual teaches guards to control through pain and gives them extensive lists of pressure points, nerve endings etc to attack.
    No matter what the government says the facts are that SERCO are contracting direct “client”to MSS security guards on CI who nothing more than CERT 2 training which is what qualifies night club bounces to act on drunks etc .
    Also that SERCO are unable to get enough staff even though they are paying unskilled, un trained people $2100 per week on CI, Scherger, Curtin and other isolated camps. They went off to recruit in economically depressed NZ and came back with guards- some were recent Humanitarian refugees from Somalia who did not know what they were letting themselves in for. It got worse on arrivall when they found out that they were not FIFO(fly in fly out) but stuck for 12 months. on top of that they are having to endure the racism of other guards calling them “monkeys” and refusing to work with them.
    Into this volatile mix come the asylum seekers fleeing torture, killing and persecution. is it any wonder that mental illness depression and suicide result.
    Australia has lost its way and asdly most Australians do not care.

  2. dee roo

    Too right, Australia lost its way years ago when vested interests lobby & effectively get to make up the rules to suit themselves. Its almost everywhere, in security, transport, law, finance, accounting, health, tertiary education, etc.. Reality needs to be exposed. Pity the mass populous is so numbed up with gratuitous commercial violence they feel little compassion, (unless it happens to themselves). This is no excuse to maintain false pretences and ignoring what is not measured/monitored/reported.

    I recall the camp out from Woomera and was shocked, looked like a concentration camp, who knows what the more civil world thought while I felt shame to be ‘Australian.’

    One thing should be put straight though, SERCO don’t pay anything, WE DO!

  3. cannedheat

    Bit of a devils advocate comment.

    Lets assume the guards (or whatever they are called) were given no direction on what to do in a confrontation. Presumably there would be a bad outcome with varying levels of harm due to adhoc and employee devised criteria for dealing with confrontations.

    The real issue here is the detainees are imprisoned in remote locations due to a) bidding to the bottom for racist’s votes b) the wrong headed idea that making life hard for arrivals will deter other arrivals (and possibly prevent them being drowned enroute).

    The solution is to treat boat arrivals the same as air arrivals. Where identity is indoubt clamp on an ankle bracelet.

    Otherwise I think this is a beatup. Training for these folks should cover all possible situations.

  4. Stevo the Working Twistie

    “If justified, necessary force is to be used to bring the subject to cooperative subjective status whereupon they respond favourably to verbalisation.” Did they forget to add “going forward”? Or did Crikey edit that bit? The language here is almost as sickening as the procedures it describes. George Orwell knew exactly what he was talking about.

  5. Rena Zurawel

    Apart from anything else, this fantastic enterprise cost us not only fortune but the reputation as a democratic country.

  6. Jenny Haines

    The Government should demand as a contractural obligation that
    Serco stop using this manual to train guards and if Serco doesn’t stop
    using it or won’t, then the government should cancel their contract
    with Serco. This demonstrates again how unsuitable Serco are for
    the management of refugees. They are not criminals. They have
    committed no crime. They should not be in detention. Why did
    we call centres that received refugees after WW2 Reception Centres
    but now they have to be Detention Centres? And after WW2 there
    were war criminals entering the country , who were subsequently
    never prosecuted, especially if they helped ASIO fight communism.
    Serco are jailers. Refugees do not need to be in jail. They need fair
    processing and understanding by the Australian community that
    they are fleeing war and trauma and torture.