Police procedural changes in Broome that could have saved the life of an Aboriginal woman need to be made at every lock-up in WA, says Labor candidate and human rights lawyer Tammy Solonec.
Rachael Hocking

25 Feb 2016 - 7:05 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2016 - 9:39 AM

Tammy Solonec is calling for a state-wide inquiry into all deaths in custody, slamming the current system for failing Aboriginal woman Ms Mandijarra in 2012.

On November 29, 2012, police say they arrested the 44-year-old for drinking beer at Male Oval.

She was found dead in her cell at 4.30am the next day.

“It's just complete neglect and recklessness on behalf of the police. And lack care and compassion. There was a litany of errors on behalf of police, and they need to be held to account," Ms Solonec said.

Over the past three days, the long-awaited inquiry has heard how Broome police officers were ‘too busy’ to carry out the specified number of welfare checks on the night of Ms Mandijarra’s death.

The court also heard that officers complied with statewide policing policy, but breached Broome specific policy which requires officers to check on high-risk people in custody more often.

The inquest heard changes to procedures at the Broome lock-up have been made since 2012.

The station has a 24/7 dedicated custodial officer in charge of the lock-up, timers to remind police officers to check on high-risk prisoners are used, and new officers now receive cultural awareness training.

Ms Solonec says the changes are welcome, but not enough to stop more deaths in custody.

“Those changes are in the Broome lock-up. We need changes in every lock-up in Western Australia. We need something; we need something to really investigate the deaths that have happened recently, particularly in Casuarina prison, and in lock-ups in Western Australia,” Ms Solonec said.

The inquest has already hit a roadblock – it has been adjourned before its expected finish date of February 26.

It now plans to resume on April 12 in Perth.

Ms Solonec says waiting three years for an inquiry was already too long.  

“There’s no reason why it took this long. It’s very distressing for the family who’ve had to wait so long for answers.”

“And the other problem about inquests taking so long is that it takes a long time to put in place recommendations to prevent future deaths,” she said.

Amnesty International recently slammed Australia for a lack of transparency in its handling of deaths in custody.

The report found that: "three prisoners died in two Western Australia prisons during September, November and December, adding to the list of deaths in custody yet to be heard by the Western Australian Coroner."

Amnesty has cited five cases of Indigenous deaths in custody they are aware of, from the past year alone.

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