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Issue #1431      14 October 2009

WA government responds over Ward death

The West Australian government has declined to terminate the contract of the private prisoner transport company responsible for the vehicle in which Ngaanyatjarra Elder Mr Ward died in custody last year.

Mr Ward’s family and the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (DICWC) had demanded that G4S (formerly GSL) prisoner transport operations be terminated following the coronial inquest into Mr Ward’s death in the back of a van during heatwave conditions in WA.

Western Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter instead ordered a general review of the transport system as part of his response last week to Coroner Alistair Hope’s recommendations.

Mr Porter had claimed to have supported all 15 recommendations from the Coroner.

The WA government has already announced wider powers for the Inspector of Custodial Services in response to two of the Coroner’s recommendations, and Mr Porter said that will give added protection to prisoners in custody awaiting a court appearance.

“The enhanced powers will allow the Inspector to audit the passage of persons through the custodial system to ensure that they are ·treated safely and humanely at every stage of their contact with the custodial aspects of the criminal justice system,” he said.

“A key feature of such an auditing process would be the creation of a statutory power for the Inspector to issue ‘Show Cause’ notices to the Department of Corrective Services (DCS), and to require responses where the audit process has disclosed risks to the health, well-being and safety of persons in custody.”

Mr Porter has also agreed with calls for police to have a better understanding of the WA Bail Act and appropriate training, including cultural-awareness training, for Justices of the Peace hearing bail applications.

“What we want to do is conduct a complete review of the Bail Act because a great number of people who enter the criminal justice system are being denied bail in circumstances where they’re then later acquitted, or they’re convicted and don’t get a term of imprisonment,” he said.

“So it seems to me that there are a group of individuals who are spending time, perhaps needlessly, in incarceration because they’ve been denied bail.”

The Attorney-General also agreed that video conferencing be used where possible for bail hearings and other court procedures to minimise the need for prisoner transportation.

Calls by the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee for the prisoner transport fleet to be immediately replaced received qualified support from Mr Porter who said a replacement fleet would not be available until the end of next year.

Mr Porter said the fleet would be completely replaced every 10 years.

While the Attorney General said the contract with G4S would not be terminated at this time, prisoner transport contracts in the future would be “completely different” to those negotiated in the past.

These included full approval by DCS before implementation by a private contractor, and significantly upgraded monitoring procedures for prisoner transportation.

DICWC Chairman Marc Newhouse said that while he welcomed the spirit of the government’s response, he felt it wasn’t strong enough and decisions should be made over the future of prisoner transportation in WA.

“It’s encouraging that they’re not discounting bringing back prisoner transportation to government responsibility,” he said.

“We’re a bit cautious about this idea that it’s on the table. We think it’s quite a simple question. It’s either in or out.”

Mr Newhouse also said that issues around bail hearings should be made clearer.

“We believe there needs to be some significant amendments to the Bail Act,” he said. “We believe that JPs should not be dealing with bail matters, but those matters should be dealt with by magistrates.

“We support the issue of video conferencing and we also support the idea of having magistrates sit outside traditional hours. Anything that’s going to reduce the need to transport people.”

The Koori Mail

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