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WA prisons suicide taskforce fails to meet amid spate of mental health concerns

Giovanni Torre -

A taskforce established to prevent suicide and self-harm in Western Australia's prisons has not met for six months despite recent lockdowns, riots and multiple cases of self-harm in the system.

Last Wednesday a Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed there had been four incidents of self-harm among prisoners at Acacia in the days after Sunday's riot, with one person taken to hospital.

National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project spokeswoman Megan Krakouer said she had been told of six self-harm incidents last Tuesday.

"Of the six I was advised two people were hospitalised... and five of the six people were Indigenous," she said.

Ms Krakouer said the suicide prevention taskforce established in August 2020, of which she is a member, had not met since September last year.

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday the committee last met in September 2021.

"Two subsequent meetings scheduled for November 2021 and February 2022 were postponed pending a trial of enhanced suicide prevention processes," they said.

"Committee members were advised of this decision.

"The committee is a high-level strategic body that does not play a role in responding to disturbances."

Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Mervyn Eades, who also sits on the taskforce, wrote to the acting and deputy commissioners of Corrective Services this week urging action.

"In regards to the Acacia Prison riot and the lockdown procedures in place today, I raise to you the high risk factor to potential risk of suicide," he said.

"We understand the psychological and mental health wellbeing of many of the young Aboriginal detainees are at a low at present and we wish to be able to access the facility to speak to them to help reduce risk of self-harm and or Suicidal Ideation."

Mr Eades said the failure of the taskforce to schedule regular meetings was a disgrace.

"We are not on the taskforce committee as blackfellas who do nothing," he said.

"We have boys in their seriously self-harming... We should be in there talking to them and getting them through.

"There are some very young boys in there, aged 18 to 25, and even some of the older ones as well, who are very vulnerable."

Mr Eades said fear of COVID, and lockdowns keeping prisoners in their cells, was exacerbating tension in the system.

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