Adequate dental services for prisoners vital for reintegration, employment after release

The Government must address significant backlogs in dental care for the state’s prisoners to improve prisoner and public health, and reduce instances of re-offending, Greens spokesperson for Corrective Services Hon Alison Xamon MLC has said today.

Speaking in Parliament, Ms Xamon said inadequate dental care, with long waiting lists and high rates of prisoner complaints had been a consistent theme of Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services (OICS) reports since the office’s establishment in 2006.

She said recent OICS reports had identified a backlog of 90 prisoners needing dental services at Albany Regional Prison, long waiting lists at West Kimberley Regional Prison and a complete lack of specialist dental services at both Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility, and Broome Regional Prison.

“At Bandyup Women’s Prison, according to an OICS report from December 2017, resources are so minimal that the visiting dentist often has little choice but to prioritise acute treatments – usually tooth removals – over restorative care,” Ms Xamon said.

"I was particularly disappointed to read in the Annual Report of the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facilities Services Agreement tabled in Parliament last month that agreement to transfer women from Melaleuca to Bandyup to receive dental care had still not been reached - these women continue to be denied access to treatment.

“This has a huge impact on the women affected, who have described the impact of the loss of their teeth on their self-esteem and ability to enjoy food.”

Ms Xamon said 50% of prison entrants in WA had used methamphetamine, often resulting in ‘meth mouth,’ making the need for adequate dental treatment for prisoners all the more urgent.  

She said research had shown poor oral health and tooth loss could make it much more difficult for former prisoners to reintegrate into society on release and find employment.

“In keeping with the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, health services available to prisoners should be equivalent to those available to the general community,” Ms Xamon said.

”And that is not the case in WA in terms of dental care.

“Oral health is fundamental to overall health, wellbeing and quality of life and is particularly important to the vulnerable people who make up the state’s prison population.”