Human Rights Lawyer and principal solicitor of the National Justice Project, George Newhouse says enough is enough and has called for a royal commission into the West Australian prison and juvenile detention system.
In the past 18 months the West Australian prison system has had a number of disturbing incidents occurring in both regional and metropolitan centres.
Those incidents include an Aboriginal prisoner giving birth alone in her cell; another female prisoner being transported naked and handcuffed to a mental health facility; a prison break out at a regional prison where men broke into the female section of the facility; a riot at the juvenile detention centre, and an inquiry which found the state government had 'probably' breached international law.
“If I was a West Australian I’d be asking the government what is going on in the prison and youth detention system,” he told NITV News.
“There’s just case after case of people being injured and harmed and whose lives are being destroyed in the prison system. I think the Minister needs to fess up and tell the community what’s going on. If he can’t handle it, he should step aside.”
Western Australia has a total of 16 adult prisons and one juvenile detention centre across the state. Most regional prisons accommodate both men and women. The Department of Corrective Services, who manages and looks after all the centres, is responsible for more than 5,000 adults.
Many of the prisons, including the only facility to house young offenders, do not have CCTV surveillance.
Mr Newhouse says if the prison system was to implement CCTV vision, the footage which could emerge would showcase what’s happening inside the system.
“I think it’s one of the worst states in Australia. You’ve seen what’s happened in the northern territory with the exposure of Don Dale. The same kind of things are going on in Western Australia because there’s no effective transparency, or CCTV footage, or personal cameras,” he said.
“You’re not seeing the truth of what’s going on inside prisons and youth detention centres in WA. And if we did see what was going on, I think people would be absolutely disgusted.”
Currently, the state's independent Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, conducts inspections and inquiries across the state’s prison system. In the past 12 months, Mr Morgan has inspected six prisons, and four reviews into separate incidents.
Mr Newhouse says the inspector doesn’t have enough power to address the issues inside the system.
“He’s made report after report and sometimes he’s been unable to have findings because the CCTV footage is missing, or the guards didn’t report what had happened. It’s just not good enough. We need an investigation with royal commission powers to get to the bottom of what’s rotten in WA.”
Western Australia’s prison system has the highest Indigenous imprisonment rate in the country.
In May, Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the state’s only juvenile detention facility, had an Indigenous population rate of 74 per cent, 112 out of 150 detainees identified as either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
NITV News has reached out to the WA government for a comment.