The main maximum security prison in Western Australia — a state where Aboriginal people are imprisoned at a higher rate than anywhere else in Australia — is failing to meet expectations in prisoner rehabilitation, training and support, according to WA’s Inspector of Custodial Services.
In a report tabled in WA Parliament, Neil Morgan also said the numbers of Aboriginal staff at Casuarina prison were too low and needed to be improved.
The report came as the Aboriginal Legal Service in New South Wales launched a series of community consultations in a bid to find solutions to the over-representation of Aboriginal people in jails.
In his report, Mr Morgan said Casuarina prison was increasingly crowded, with the prisoner count up by 20 percent to about 950 between 2015 and 2016.
The prison, which opened in 1991, was only designed to house a capacity of 397 prisoners. Many prisoners were now doubled up in single cells, with remand and sentenced prisoners regularly mixing, often in shared cells.
“Casuarina was designed for long-term sentenced prisoners,” Mr Morgan said. “It used to do an excellent job providing employment, education and programs for them. But over 40 percent of its population is now on remand and many of the sentenced prisoners are simply in short-term transit to another prison.
“The result is high population churn and a more volatile, stressed population.”
Mr Morgan said the prison infrastructure and resourcing were not keeping up with prisoner demand. In particular, the health centre was not providing adequate health, physical, mental or dental care or screening.
There was also a severe backlog of prisoners waiting for an initial GP health screen.
Mr Morgan said staff worked well to manage prisoners identified at risk of self-harm, but the prison counselling service was poorly resourced.
WA Prison Officers’ Union Secretary John Welch said the previous Liberal-National State Government had left the WA prison system in a state of crisis.
He said the new Labor State Government had to address over-crowding as a matter of urgency.
In July, WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin told a Criminal Lawyers Association conference in the Northern Territory that he was ashamed to admit the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment in WA – at 4011 people per 100,000 – was “significantly” higher than any other state or territory.
He said there was no doubt Aboriginal people were disadvantaged in the justice system.
Meanwhile, the ALS in NSW and the ACT said this week it was time for Aboriginal people to have a say on incarceration rates.
ALS chief executive officer Les Turner said reducing Aboriginal incarceration must start with community-designed and led initiatives, with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than jail.
“We undoubtedly need urgent reforms,” he said. “But with incarceration rates continuing to rise, what’s apparent is that change must come from our own community if we have any hope of keeping Aboriginal people out of prison.”
He said the ALS in NSW wanted to hear from people who had been through the criminal justice system.
The community feedback would be used in an ALS submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Incarceration Inquiry.
The community consultations will be held at Coffs Harbour Court Complex on August 24 from 10am-2pm, Redfern Community Centre on August 29 from 10am-2pm, ALS NSW office on August 31 from 1-4pm, and at the Jane Ardler Centre in Nowra from 10am-2pm, also on August 31.