The Kimberley in far north Western Australia needs a long-term custodial plan to improve the numbers of Aboriginal prisoners who remain in their regions, the State’s Inspector of Custodial Services said this week.
Inspector Neil Morgan said 51.1 percent of Kimberley Aboriginal prisoners were currently housed at facilities outside their regions.
“The loss of connection with family, community and culture is especially acute for people from the East Kimberley, which has no prison of its own,” Mr Morgan said.
Mr Morgan said three years down the track from when he first raised the issue, there was still no plan in place for the region.
“As a result, people are still housed in inhumane conditions in Broome, large amounts of money are spent flying prisoners from the East Kimberley to Broome, often for short stays, and the Wyndham Work Camp remains underused,” he said.
Mr Morgan’s comments came in his latest report on the West Kimberley Regional Prison in Derby.
He found that the WKRP — once a bright light in the WA justice system under former Noongar Superintendent Mike McFarlane — was now a prison under strain.
Built in 2012, the prison aimed to have an Aboriginal focus and to keep Kimberley Aboriginal people in country with family and to uphold cultural and kinship responsibilities.
Mr Morgan said under Mr McFarlane, the jail had exceeded expectations with an “excellent balance of safety, security and purposeful activity”.
But Mr McFarlane left for another job in Queensland last year and by March this year the jail was under strain.
Mr Morgan said he was particularly concerned to find 47 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
“This was on top of grossly overcrowded and degrading conditions at the same time at Broome Regional Prison,” he said.
He said although extra beds were added after the inspection, it was not acceptable that the Department of Corrective Services had allowed conditions to slip.
Many prisoners were also refused permission to attend funerals and the Department of Corrective Services was still not recognising Aboriginal kinship and extended familial relationships when assessing funeral applications.
He said WKRP was also facing serious and chronic short staffing, which was “undermining many of the prison’s previous strengths including participation in education, work, training and recreation”.