HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.58 pm]: I rise to speak on what I thought were pretty horrifying reports that came out on Sunday about a young Aboriginal woman who in August last year was transported naked, while handcuffed and covered in her own menstrual blood, from Bandyup Women’s Prison to Graylands Hospital. This case raises so many issues. It serves to highlight the unacceptably high and growing rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal Western Australians, something that should concern every one of us. I have spoken before of concerns about the lack of access to Medicare by prisoners. We already know that there is exceedingly poor delivery of health and mental health care in our prisons. There is overcrowding in our prisons. There is a disturbing absence of programs and transition services to rehabilitate prisoners and support them to live successfully in the community once they are released. Of course, it also raises ongoing issues around the impact of policies such as mandatory sentencing and fines enforcement on Aboriginal communities.
All these areas require urgent action and should be issues of primary concern in this place. I will talk about two specific issues that this matter raises; one is about the access to forensic mental health care within our prisons and the other is prisoner transport. I have spoken about the issue of prisoner health a number of times in this place. We already know that prisoners rate very poorly in their social determinants of health and that mental health issues have been identified as a central factor that contributes to ongoing offending behaviours, particularly recidivism. The “Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2015” report, which includes data from over 9 500 prisoners, found that one in four prisoner entrants reported currently having one or more chronic health conditions and one in four prisoners were receiving medications for mental health–related issues while they were in prison. We already know that our prison health services are overstretched and do not even remotely meet demand. Last year, I asked a question on notice about medical practitioners employed by the Department of Corrective Services. In 2015–16, there were 16.2 full-time equivalent positions for medical practitioners but by 2016–17, the number had fallen to 13.2 FTE positions. According to the response I received, as of 15 March 2018 one of the vacant positions was the prison medical officer at Bandyup Women’s Prison. We know, as demonstrated by the incident that was reported over the weekend, that women are particularly vulnerable within our prisons. This is despite the extraordinary work of the very hardworking prison medical staff, many of whom I know. The lack of health care is having a very detrimental impact on prisoners.
Services are not just lacking in our prisons. We have only 32 secure forensic mental health care beds, which is the same number that we had 25 years ago, in 1993. About a million more people now call Western Australia home and our prison population has tripled since then. Despite the fact that this was recognised as a matter of urgency within the 10-year mental health services plan, no funding has yet been allocated to this area. Prisoners encompass a very large range of complex needs, including health, mental health and disability, so it is fundamentally important that the people who we charge with transporting prisoners are given the specific skills and specialist training to undertake this role.
We have a dark history around the issue of prisoner transfer in this state. As members would be aware, on 27 January 2008, Mr Ward, a 46-year-old Aboriginal elder and a very respected member of the Warburton community, tragically died in the back of a prisoner transport vehicle. This was the subject of a coronal inquest and the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs ended up undertaking its own inquiry, which focused on the implementation of the recommendations made by the State Coroner following the death of Mr Ward. I note that one of the recommendations of the committee’s report was that the annual report of the court security and custodial services contract needed to include the details of the training undertaken by employees. The report states that the training should include —
... detail of the training provided to contractor employees, the auditing and monitoring of employees’ demonstrated competence, their compliance with contract training provisions and the independent consultant’s review of the contractor’s training.
We are talking about requiring quite comprehensive reporting. Broadspectrum Australia took over the contract for the delivery of court security and custodial services in March last year. It provided its first annual report, having had the contract for a little over three months of service delivery. The annual report contains a section about training. I will quote the entire section. It states —
The Contract requires all Contract Workers to have successfully completed a Certificate III, or for Supervisors, Certificate IV in Correctional Services in their first year of employment.
During their period of service in this reporting period all staff met their requirements for Certificate III and Certificate IV.
I remind members that that is the whole portion pertaining to training in the report. That is the entire portion. This information does therefore not give me any comfort that employees have been provided with the necessary skills to safely and respectfully transfer a prisoner suffering an acute mental health issue.
The annual report also contained other concerning information that I have spoken about in this place before, including that in that period of just over three months there had already been 15 incidents subject to abatement, with the total value of abatement supplied for the period 24 March to 30 June 2017 coming to $256 150. These incidents included 11 failures to provide a service, two unauthorised releases of an unsecure person in custody, one escape of a person in custody and one failure to treat all persons fairly and with respect or inherent dignity. Reading this annual report and hearing about incidences such as that reported on the weekend gives me significant concerns about what is happening in this state in the provision of prisoner transport services. What happened to the young woman in the back of that prison transport vehicle in August last year is absolutely disgraceful. The seriousness of this incident means something should have been put in place immediately in order to address these sorts of failings. The response to my question in this place this afternoon does not put my mind at ease. I am really glad that the Inspector of Custodial Services—are we not glad to have that very important statutory independent agency—is undertaking an investigation into what happened. But I asked a question specifically of the minister about what measures have now been put in place in order to ensure that this cannot happen again. I was, effectively, told that the government was going to wait until the outcome of a review. No; that is unacceptable. This was August last year. I should have received some answers about what has begun and what processes have been put in place to make sure that this does not happen now. We do not wait until we get a report; that should simply be able to give some satisfaction that people are going down the right track, but it is unacceptable that we have not got any indication from the minister about what is being put in place to make sure that such a disgraceful incident does not happen again.
We have around 7 000 Western Australian adult prisoners at any one time and around 130 of them are children and young people. As prisoners they lose their liberty, but they do not give up their human rights. Prisoner health care and transport are vital frontline services that are delivered to some of our community’s most vulnerable members and it is essential that the delivery of their services to prisoners is undertaken in a way that does not undermine their basic human rights. I hope that the minister is going to be far more forthcoming about being able to assure me, and indeed every member in this place and the community, that urgent steps have been taken. I would like to know what those steps are.