Serco training manual: how to "hit" and "strike" asylum seekers

Crikey Senior Journalist Andrew Crook writes:

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, who 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.

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 that 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 is expected to read key sections of the training manual to parliament this afternoon.

She told Crikey this morning that 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.

"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".

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen declined to comment.

Serco released the following statement early this afternoon: "We are committed to treating the people in our care with dignity and respect, and to keeping all those we are responsible for from coming to any sort of harm.

"Any use of force or restraint in immigration detention must be reasonable and used strictly as a last resort, only after techniques to de-escalate a situation have been exhausted. It is only used for the shortest amount of time possible to the extent that is both lawful and reasonably necessary, in accordance with the contract.

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

"An assault by any party is unacceptable and any evidence, allegations or complaints of such incidents are reported to DIAC and to police."