The Guardian July 19, 2000


Nine deaths in WA prisons since January

The West Australian Deaths in Custody Watch Committee has called on 
Premier Richard Court to appoint a panel of professionals to investigate 
WA's incarceration practices. The call followed the death of a 19-year-old 
remand prisoner at Hakea Prison last month, a death which took to nine the 
number of prisoners who have died in custody in WA since January.

The figure equals the total deaths in the State's jails for all of 1999.

"This has gone past the stage of numbers", the Deaths in Custody Watch 
Committee said. "The numbers are truly horrific, and in the absence of the 
Ombudsman's report we can only ask the Premier to intervene and appoint a 
panel of professionals to investigate the State's incarceration practices.

"The buck stops here."

The latest prisoner to die, Simon Otero, who had been due to apply for 
variations to his bail conditions, was found hanged in his cell at the 
former Canning Vale Remand Centre.

Prison officers, who had been doing a routine check of cells, tried 
unsuccessfully to revive him.

General manager of Prison Services, Terry Simpson, said the Justice 
Ministry was very concerned at the number of deaths in recent months and 
would review all cases.

"Although the deaths appear unrelated, we will be carefully reviewing each 
case to ascertain if there is any more we could have done than we already 
are doing to prevent deaths in our prisons."

Police and the Coroner will investigate all nine deaths  six of which 
were by hanging and four of which involved Aboriginal prisoners.

Four of the deaths have been of inmates at the maximum security Casuarina 
Prison, in Perth's south.

The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee disputed the claim that the deaths 
were unrelated. "Each and every person was in the custody and care of the 
Ministry, were they not?", the Committee noted.

"The community has had enough of promises on promises and spin doctors on 
ministerial positions. No further rhetoric please. We must have results 
from Western Australia's penal system.

"This committee seeks not to debate any politicians or senior bureaucrats 
in a point-scoring exercise whilst Royal Commission [into Black Deaths in 
Custody] recommendations remain unimplemented."

The Committee suggested that perhaps the issue is not custodial or penal: 
"Perhaps there is a medical/psychological component?".

The Committee has demanded that the WA Attorney-General implement 
recommendation 23 of the Royal Commission which states: "That the family of 
the deceased be entitled to legal representation at the inquest and that 
government pay the reasonable costs of such representation through legal 
aid schemes or otherwise."

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Acknowledgments: Koori Mail

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