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Australia 'Nine months, I still can't take my kids to see their dad'

08:41  27 october  2020
08:41  27 october  2020 Source:   9news.com.au

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A NSW mother says it is breaking her children's hearts they haven't seen their father in almost a year, because while coronavirus restrictions are lifting everywhere else, a "damaging" lockdown still exists in the state's prisons.

Leni Cormack believes being cut off from seeing their children during in-person prison visits is having a negative effect on her husband's rehabilitation, and she's worried lockdown is having a dangerous impact on mental health for inmates across the state.

"Each week I tell the kids they get to see their dad on the weekend, and they get so excited thinking we are going to visit him. But when they find out it's another video call it just breaks their hearts," Ms Cormack told nine.com.au.

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'[ Their father] is abusing my kids , hurting my kids and making them feel bad about themselves,' she 'Very heartbreaking and disturbing to see my kids abused,' said Hall. The pair thanked people on Peter Andre is every inch the doting dad as he enjoys a family horse riding trip with children Junior

was taking . had taken . Suddenly they heard a strange noise and at each other in horror. He didn' t see me as he was reading when I into the room. While the kids in the garden, their mother was hurriedly cooking dinner.

a large brick building: Leni Cormack wants to know why the rest of NSW is reopening, she still can't take her kids to visit their dad in jail. © Cathryn Tremain Leni Cormack wants to know why the rest of NSW is reopening, she still can't take her kids to visit their dad in jail.

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According to Corrective Services NSW, there are an estimated 13,000 inmates currently serving sentences across 35 facilities.

Ms Cormack believes there would be at least double that number on the outside who are desperate to see their loved ones.

In 2018, her husband Jason was sentenced to four years and 10 months jail over a serious assault on a highway patrol officer who was called to the family's Wollongong street over a car noise complaint.

An altercation ensued and Mr Cormack was charged with assaulting the officer to avoid arrest.

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My mother is a medical nurse; she takes care of sick and old people. What for a living? has your mother done. As far as I know Mike Italian for quite some time, but he still doesn' t understand very much. learns.

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It was determined in court that underlying mental health conditions and distress from being capsicum sprayed both played a role in the 32-year-old's outburst, and he was sentenced to three years without parole.

"Jason pleaded guilty and he owned what he did – now he is determined to put 100 per cent in to getting out to see his kids," Ms Cormack said.

a man and a woman looking at the camera: Jason Cormack already had mental health issues going into prison, now his wife is concerned the coronavirus lockdown will make matters worse. © Leni Cormack / Supplied Jason Cormack already had mental health issues going into prison, now his wife is concerned the coronavirus lockdown will make matters worse.

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She said her husband can't change what he did to the officer, but he has spent his time behind bars working on improving himself.

She said the one hour a week when the family could all sit together for an in-person visit played a massive role in his rehabilitation.

"Imagine seeing your children each week and having them say 'daddy come home, we miss you and we are proud of you,' that inmate goes back to their cell motivated today and every day to behave and make the right choices until they are released," Ms Cormack said.

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"When you take that away and keep them in their cells for the majority of the day to prevent coronavirus – that hinders their recovery."

It has now been nine months and counting since the children, aged two, four and five, have seen their father in person.

Corrective Services NSW have not indicated if changes to visitation will occur anytime soon.

a man sitting in front of a laptop: Ms Cormack's youngest has even tried feeding his dad through the camera because sharing snacks was one of the few things he could do to bond with his dad. © Leni Cormack / Supplied Ms Cormack's youngest has even tried feeding his dad through the camera because sharing snacks was one of the few things he could do to bond with his dad.

Video calls keep families connected

Authorities have implemented Skype calls for inmates and their families to keep in touch during the coronavirus lockdown.

Corrective Services NSW told nine.com.au it has facilitated more than 126,000 "video visits" between inmates and families since face-to-face visits were suspended due to coronavirus.

"I am grateful for video calls because they are better than nothing, Ms Cormack said.

But the camera quality is terrible. One time the call cut out seven times in just 20 minutes and they often pixilated and freeze up."

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Ms Cormack's youngest child was just six-weeks-old when his father was locked up and he is now almost three.

"He has only seen his daddy a handful of times that he can remember. He has to build a relationship through Skype calls that rarely work," she said.

"He even tried to feed Jason a chip by holding it to the phone because he remembers that during visits, he could share snacks with his dad."

a person smiling for the camera: More often than not, the camera feed is pixilated and cuts out while Ms Cormack's boys try to connect with their father. © Leni Cormack / Supplied More often than not, the camera feed is pixilated and cuts out while Ms Cormack's boys try to connect with their father.

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"We recognise that contact visits are important to inmates and their loved ones and have worked hard to increase contact with families via phone and video visits," a Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman told nine.com.au.

"As part of our COVID-19 response, the window in which inmates are permitted to make video and phone calls has been increased in order to provide additional support to inmates and their families more broadly."

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a small child sitting on a table: It breaks Ms Cormack's heart that her boys haven't hugged their father in nine months, while the rest of NSW gets back to normal. © Leni Cormack / Supplied It breaks Ms Cormack's heart that her boys haven't hugged their father in nine months, while the rest of NSW gets back to normal.

When will in-person visits return?

Ms Cormack says she understands the decision to shut down visits at the start of the year when the state was in full lockdown, but wants to know when it could change now that cafes, restaurants, bars and other public venues have reopened with lowered restrictions.

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diagram © 9News

Corrective Services NSW said it will reinstate face-to-face visits when it is safe to do so for inmates, their families and staff, and planning is underway to reintroduce these visits in a COVID-safe capacity.

What coronavirus is doing to inmates' mental health

Dr Andrew Ellis, a forensic psychiatrist and senior lecturer at UNSW, said the major changes implemented in prisons because of the coronavirus pandemic can have serious psychological effects on inmates.

"People with existing psychiatric conditions may experience a worsening of their condition while subject to quarantine," Dr Ellis said in a report on the issue.

He said delivery of mental health care in custodial facilities is difficult at the best of times and reduced access to visitors could increase distress in prisoners with mental health conditions.

Dr Ellis also said replacement services like video calls often render communication difficult or impossible.

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a bed in a dark room: Dr Ellis said the restrictions placed on prisons due to coronavirus does have a negative impact on inmate mental health. © Getty Dr Ellis said the restrictions placed on prisons due to coronavirus does have a negative impact on inmate mental health.

"Therefore - measures to combat the spread of a virus (lockdowns, quarantines and reduction in face to face mental health staff presence) can induce new mental disorders, worsen existing mental disorders and reduce access to treatment," Dr Ellis said.

He said for inmates with major mental illness and cognitive learning disorders, lockdowns can mean they are more vulnerable to suicide or being the victim of assault and prolonged confinement has been shown to have negative effects on mental and physical health, even inducing psychotic episodes, depression and PTSD.

Ms Cormack said her husband had been working hard on his rehabilitation before coronavirus hit, completing courses on better communication, anger management and doing five shifts a week in the prison kitchen – all to better himself.

a man and a woman in a wedding dress: Ms Cormack is advocating for the mental health of inmates across the country - pushing for face-to-face visits to return in NSW. © Leni Cormack / Supplied Ms Cormack is advocating for the mental health of inmates across the country - pushing for face-to-face visits to return in NSW.

But due to coronavirus, rehabilitation courses have been put on hold and yard time has been severely cut back.

"Jail can be a blessing in disguise for many of these inmates as long as they have the right support and encouragement," Ms Cormack said.

"Government health authorities go on about everyone's wellbeing, but there are men and women behind bars who are suffering mentally because of coronavirus and that could be an even bigger killer than the virus."

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