Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WA prison: shameful, third world conditions a national disgrace

MARCH 20, 2007: Broome prison conditions likened to Third World

Western Australia's prison inspector has been scathing about the conditions at a prison in Broome in the state's north-west, calling them "shameful" and "Third World". Broome Regional Prison was once dubbed the worst in Western Australia and the state's Inspector of Custodial Services, Richard Harding, believes not much has changed...

He has just inspected the ageing facility in Broome's town centre and says the conditions would not be tolerated in a southern prison where the population is predominantly non-Aboriginal. The outspoken former crime researcher has called on the State Government to firmly commit to additional prison accommodation in the Kimberley, where 95 per cent of prisoners are Indigenous.

The prison was built to house about 60 prisoners but often holds twice that. The professor released a similar report card on Broome Prison in 2002 and there have been three reports released since then calling for urgent change.

The Minister for Corrective Services, Margaret Quirk, has conceded the conditions at the prison are unacceptable and a new prison needs to be built in Broome. "This is one of our absolute priority issues," she said. "I've been making very strong representations and we've all been working very hard.

"I regard the conditions of Broome as being urgently remedied, so that's why we're immediately working on some important upgrades to provide a more humane environment in the meantime." Ms Quirk says plans for a new prison are well advanced and $11 million will be spent upgrading the existing facility.

Meanwhile there are calls for better incentives to attract officers to work at the prison. The Western Australian Prison Officers Union says the State Government has pledged to increase numbers, but the process is not happening quickly enough.

The union says the extra numbers are urgently needed to handle the prison population, which exceeds 100. Union secretary John Welch says a new recruitment strategy is needed. "There are things that are being done and I don't want to be critical of those, but we're saying simply that we need to go further and faster," he said. "We also need to take pressure off Broome Prison, it's running with very high ... [numbers], the number of prisoners that is within the prison."

A Labor backbencher has described the health and imprisonment statistics of Aborigines in Western Australia's north-west as a "national disgrace." Tom Stephens was commenting on strong criticism of Broome Regional Prison by the inspector of custodial services, Richard Harding.

Professor Harding has renewed his plea for new prison facilities, calling conditions at the existing overcrowded jail shameful.

Mr Stephens, the Member for Central Kimberley-Pilbara, says the jail is just part of a bigger picture of neglect which every Western Australian should be embarrassed about.

"[It is] absolutely unacceptable to me that we've got so many places around the regional areas of Western Australia where the schools are inadequate, the communities are inadequate, the housing is overcrowded and we've got a backlog of problems that is absolutely huge and channelling people almost directly from the maternity wards into the jails," he said.

Meanwhile, health organisations have gathered in Alice Springs ahead of a new Aboriginal health campaign to be launched next month. Oxfam are coordinating the 'Close the Gap' campaign, which calls on governments to commit to achieving Indigenous health equality in 25 years.

Oxfam say: "It is a national scandal that the life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is almost two decades less than the general Australian population. While most women in Australia can expect to live to an average age of 82 years, an Indigenous Australian woman can expect to live to only 64.8 years. The situation is even worse for Indigenous men whose life expectancy is only 59.4 years. From injury, to road trauma, to diabetes, to cancer, to respiratory disease and infant mortality, Indigenous health lags behind that of most Australians and is often comparable to that of the world's poorest nations including Mozambique and Bangladesh..."

Broome prison conditions likened to Third World - ABC

MLA labels WA Aboriginal health, jail stats a 'national disgrace' - ABC

Organisations combine to achieve Indigenous health equality - ABC


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