MEDIA RELEASE (30.06.21): Alarming report on use of force against Aboriginal people in prisons across Western Australia
A key stakeholder in the Pilbara, West Kimberley and Goldfields regions has expressed concerns about findings in the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services’ report on the use of force against prisoners in Western Australia.
The Inspection Report, which was recently handed down in Parliament, revealed that force is used more often on Aboriginal prisoners, with the overrepresentation of prisoners in use of force incidents “apparent at almost every prison in Western Australia”.
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA, a specialist Family Violence organisation which provides legal assistance, preventative education and social supports for Aboriginal victims of family and domestic violence throughout remote and regional Western Australia, said that the findings of the report were problematic.
Particularly concerning was the finding that although Aboriginal people made up on average only 39% of the prison population in Western Australia, they were involved in more than half of all reported use of force incidences (55%).
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in use of force incidents was likely partly a result of undiagnosed cognitive impairments, misinterpreted as contempt of prison officers and misbehavior. “These are some of the state’s most vulnerable people, who have experienced a lifetime and trauma, likely have undiagnosed FASD, and who have been drawn into criminal activity due to circumstances outside of their control”.
And, while there was an overall drop in the use of force against female prisoners, Aboriginal women remained overrepresented in use of force incidents in prisons across Western Australia. Since 2016, Aboriginal women have made up between 45 and 47 per cent of the female prisoner population, yet they have been involved in “upwards of 65 per cent of recorded use of force incidents involving women”. For AFLS, the finding that, just like the trend for Aboriginal prisoners generally, there was “no explanation” for the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in use of force incidences, is troubling.
Ms. Martin also queried the unclear policy and reporting practices which failed to ensure use of force was controlled effectively. “The report tells us that 80% of all incidents in WA prisons involved physical force between 2016 and 2020, yet only 20 times were prisoners recorded as having physical force used on them in the same period? The inherent failures in the reporting system are leaving our prisoners, who are real people, more vulnerable to excess use of force and reduced chances of positive rehabilitation into the community”.
Ms. Martin urged the WA Government to review its practices in the use of force and ensure that Aboriginal prisoners do not continue to be overrepresented in use of force incidents in WA prisons.
Media Contact – Laney Gould 9355 1502
AFLS welcomes the 2021-22 WA State Budget commitment to the legal assistance sector, says more investment in Family Violence Prevention Legal Services is required
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key legal assistance provider in the Pilbara, Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, welcomes the State Government’s investment into the legal assistance sector, announced yesterday in the 2021-22 Western Australian State Budget.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that the $3.995 million in 2021-22 to respond to the increased demand for legal services due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome and necessary commitment by the Government to fund Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLSs) and Community Legal Centres (CLCs), which provide critical legal and other supports to some of the state’s most at-risk and vulnerable cohorts.
“If distributed appropriately, this funding will help services like AFLS to grow our service capacity, address unmet need for legal support in responding to family violence across regional Western Australia, and meet the growing cost of service delivery including payment of staff salaries,” she said. The funding commitment will also enable the service to provide a mix of practical, educational and advocacy supports at an intensive level of engagement, to ensure the needs of clients are addressed beyond the demands of their legal case.
However, AFLS expressed concern over the impending allocation of the funding and said that it fell short in providing the kind of assurance needed for the service, and the sector generally, to continue providing support for clients without being impacted by constraints and uncertainty about the future.
“We recognise the demand for funding in the areas of tenancy advice, consumer, employment and mental health, but the evidence shows that FDV has continued to rise ever since COVID-19 started to impact our lives, and the rates don’t look to be decreasing. Aboriginal women continue to experience FDV at increasingly disproportionate rates, and I am concerned that the failure of the funding commitment to require at least a proportion of the funding to be specifically allocated to FDV will negatively impact the availability of services to those experiencing family and domestic violence,” Ms Martin said.
In particular, funding for FVPLS services in WA has historically fallen short, with limited consideration of the demand for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations such as FVPLSs to provide services to Aboriginal people experiencing family and domestic violence. Ms Martin said that the State Government must adequately fund Aboriginal organisations to deliver culturally appropriate services that understand the particular history and culture of their service users.
AFLS commended the State Government for recognising the demands of the legal assistance sector and encouraged the Government to work closely and genuinely with service providers to provide culturally appropriate service responses in the sector that will effectively improve outcomes for service users.