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It is 2022 and stray animals get aircon while Indigenous prisoners cook in Australia's hottest jail

Zak Kirkup -

Sooner or later a prisoner is going to literally cook to death in Roebourne Regional Prison and there will be no one to blame but the Department of Justice and the WA Government.

That prisoner, who will most likely be an Indigenous male, will be yet another death in custody victim who will die in spite of the fact that there has been warning after warning issued about the hottest prison in Australia.

Western Australia has a terrible history when it comes to the treatment of our prisoners, particularly those who are Indigenous.

Indeed, when I open with the hypothetical situation of a prisoner literally cooking to death in custody, this would be the second time this has occurred.

The first was in 2008 when an Ngaanyatjarra Elder, Mr Ward, suffered third-degree burns and died after being put in a prison transport vehicle in the Goldfields.

The vehicle, which like Roebourne Regional Prison, had no air-conditioning, and the journey in desert-heat saw Mr Ward, according to the Coroner, effectively "cook to death" in a metal box while being taken to Kalgoorlie.

If you believe the independent Inspector of Custodial Services, the Aboriginal Legal Service, Human Rights Watch, former-prisoners, and Members of the WA Parliament, what happened in the back of the prison van to Mr Ward is at risk of occurring again at Roebourne.

After yet another visit in 2020 by WA's Inspector of Custodial Services, a recommendation was made to the Department of Justice and WA Government that the lack of climate mitigation measures was a 'grave concern'.

It's been noted that temperatures inside the prison exceed 50 degrees, and for most prisoners there is no air-conditioning in their cells.

Unless of course we're talking about a dog in the region's local pound. In which case, a few million has been spent by the local council making sure furry friends get well looked after.

To the credit of the WA Government, with it's multi-billion dollar surplus, it has spent a bit of money at Roebourne Regional Prison in the last few years.

A more than $410,000 contract was awarded for refurbishing the toilets, in excess of $160,000 was spent repainting a roof and $327,000 was spent expanding the visitation centre.

There's clearly no lacking of funds to ensure the prison is maintained, there's just no intent to ensure an Aboriginal prisoner should be in a cell with an $899 Fujitsu split system on the wall (which you can click and collect right now from the nearby Karratha Harvey Norman).

Repainted roof? Sure.

AC? You can go to hell. Which conveniently might be the same temperature you'd experience in a Roebourne jail cell.

We all know few people care about prisoners. So long as they stay locked behind the wire away from us, there is no political imperative to do much more.

The trouble is that when it comes to Roebourne Regional, disaster is only a wet season away.

Sadly there have been so many warnings it'll come as no surprise to anyone when a person dies inside that godforsaken jail.

If you believe you judge a society on how it treats its prisoners, then WA could be doing a lot better insofar as Roebourne is concerned.

After all these warnings, we have to ask the question, are we really content with accepting yet another Aboriginal person being cooked to death an inevitable reality?

Surely, not again.

Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji heritage and is the former leader of the Liberal Party in Western Australia


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