Clarification: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mr Georgatos was calling the 1800 AVS number, when he was in fact calling a WA local number provided by WA police. NITV Apologises to the hard working staff and volunteers of the AVS hotline for the error.
The family of Elijah Doughty are angry after they said they were given an incorrect number for a 24-hour hotline for WA Indigenous prisoners.
A family representative tried repeatedly to call the number provided by police after Elijah’s father, Darryl Doughty, was arrested on Wednesday.
Mr Doughty was reportedly arrested in Perth on Wednesday, allegedly for outstanding warrants relating to vehicle offences. Concerned for his health and wellbeing, the 40-year-old’s family contacted social justice advocate Gerry Georgatos to seek assistance.
Mr Georgatos told NITV News he believed he was calling the WA Aboriginal Visitor Scheme (AVS) 24-hour hotline provided by Corrective Services and Police.
“I rang the (number) yesterday afternoon again and again. No answer, unattended, no answering message and just nothing. If I couldn’t make contact through this service, then neither could Darryl from the lock up,” he said.
Mr Georgatos called the number provided by police on eight occasions between 3pm to 7pm on Wednesday but the phone would constantly 'ring out'.
NITV called the correct 1800 hotline on Thursday morning just after 9am and the call was unanswered and went to a voicemail account asking for a message to be left. A call later that morning was answered by an AVS staff member.
A spokesman for the AVS strongly defended the service and said the 1800 number is always attended and that their records showed no calls were left unanswered by the service.
Last year the previous Western Australian Government established the 24-hour hotline for relatives to make contact with family members arrested. The AVS is run by corrective services and puts prisoners in touch with counsellors -only if they request it; whereas the NSW's Custody Notification Service (CNS), is an independent operation, which legally requires officers to contact Aboriginal Legal Service lawyers as soon as Indigenous prisoners are taken to a police station.
"About 100 per cent of those lives lost in Western Australian police watch houses are young black lives.”
Mr Georgatos criticised the service, labelling it inferior to the CNS - which has seen only one death in NSW police stations since the CNS was enacted in the year 2000.
“It’s not going to save lives. It’s not the sort of service that would have ensured that Ms Dhu was not detained.”
Mr Georgatos believes the death of 22-year-old Ms Dhu in a police watch house should have led to the immediate establishment of a CNS in WA. He believes making the service independent and mandatory was essential to negate the risk officers have recognising something wrong, or, as happened in Ms Dhu’s case, not believing something is wrong.
“The memory of Ms Dhu has been betrayed by the WA government. It is my firm belief that a CNS advocate would have seen to the hospitalisation and proper treatment of Ms Dhu.”
Mr Georgatos said it is much needed in Western Australia where the nation’s highest number deaths in custody occurs.
“Western Australia suffers the highest toll both proportional and in tally of Aboriginal lives lost in police watch houses. About 100 per cent of those lives lost in Western Australian police watch houses are young black lives.”
"We can put an end to deaths in custody."
The State Attorney-General, John Quigley has been campaigning for the establishment of the Custody Notification Service.
“The McGowan Labor Government has committed to introducing the Custody Notification Service and we are working through the coroner’s recommendations with a view to improving outcomes for Indigenous people in our community," Mr Quigley said.
Western Australia’s Indigenous incarceration rates are scandalous. Mr Quigley says they are amongst the highest in the country and the McGowan Labor Government does not shy away from this problem.
“I intend to introduce a package of amendments to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA), the effect of which will be to reduce the number of people imprisoned for fine default alone," he said.
“I have examined the approach taken in other jurisdictions in relation to jailing for fines and I will be in a position to bring forward a reform package to Cabinet before the end of the year.”