Authorities investigating Indigenous man’s death in custody at regional WA prison

Authorities are investigating a death in custody at Western Australia’s only regional maximum security prison.

Paramedics were called to Albany Regional Prison on the state’s south coast on Thursday afternoon, after a 41-year-old Aboriginal man was found unresponsive in his cell by prison staff. 

In a statement, the Department of Justice said prison staff provided first aid until paramedics arrived.

The man was taken to Albany Health Campus but could not be revived.

There have been 49 deaths in custody in Australia this year, including yesterday’s death. 

Nine of them involved Indigenous detainees.

‘No input into Aboriginal deaths in custody’

Mervyn Eades, WA Aboriginal advocate and member on the Deaths in Custody Committee, said the First Nations community was in mourning following the death.

Mr Eades believed the man was a father and had grown up in the Katanning area.

A man in a black polo shirt stands with arms crossed in front of an Aboriginal flag.

Mervyn Eades says news of the man’s death is deeply distressing.(ABC News: Nic Perpitch)

He said that Aboriginal deaths in custody “never stops”.

“It’s just a joke where we are at … our community is angry and I’m very angry that this continues,” Mr Eades said.

“There’s no input into Aboriginal deaths in custody, there’s no input that they take seriously from Aboriginal communities … we’ve told them over and over, even while sitting on the suicide taskforce.”

Mr Eades said it felt as though Aboriginal positions on boards and committees were “tokenistic” at times.

He said Aboriginal elders and leaders needed to be able to access prisons to have yarns and conversations.

“It’s a no-brainer and it’s logical,” he said.

“[Aboriginal prisoners will] connect and open up [to Indigenous representatives] … we will stop what’s going on.”

Mr Eades pleaded for more mental health support in prisons.

WA Prison Union cites staffing concerns

WA Prison Union secretary Andy Smith alleged Albany Prison had staffing issues.

Andy Smith addresses media at a press conference

WA Prison Officers Union secretary Andy Smith says there is a shortage of prison officers across the state.(ABC News)

Mr Smith said there needed to be a serious effort in keeping prisons safe instead of “striving to save dollars”.

“We’ve seen over the last two years, prison officers conditions and pay and allowances carved,” Mr Smith said.

“There’s been an attack [about] saving money — not paying overtime to bring people in to fill the positions that are vacant, caused by the department not employing enough prison officers.”

A department spokesperson said support services had been offered to staff and prisoners. 

“As is mandatory for all deaths in custody, WA Police will investigate and provide a report to the state coroner,” the spokesperson said. 

WA Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia has been contacted for comment.

Previous concerns flagged at prison 

The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services’ most recent report on Albany Regional Prison, dated November 2021, raised several issues. 

At the time of the inspection, 38 per cent of prisoners were Aboriginal, but only 14 per cent of prisoners employed in industries or service areas were Indigenous. 

The department was told it “must do more” to support Aboriginal prisoners and get more Aboriginal men into industries and employment within the prison. 

The report also found prisoners complained about a lack of organised sporting competitions and restrictions on recreational activities due to staff absences.

It found that activities such as unit-based music and art, chaplaincy and spiritual support were either “unavailable or regularly cancelled”. 

The department said previously it acknowledged that sport benefited the wellbeing of prisoners and that it was developing an activities calendar.

But it said there were restrictions on paint use for safety and security reasons and that its policies would be submitted for review.

In August last year the department was forced to apologise after it accidentally sent private information out about prisoners, including from Albany Regional Prison. 



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