Prisoner transport leaves Aboriginal woman for hours in urine-soaked clothing
A female Aboriginal prisoner suffering from schizophrenia has been forced to endure hours in urine-soaked clothing after government officers did not take her to the toilet and made no effort to help her change despite knowing she had soiled herself.
Anna’s ordeal – revealed by the West Australian Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services Eamon Ryan in his latest report into the regional transport of WA prisoners – occurred just two weeks after a similar debacle.
Anna was being transported from Greenough Regional Prison to Perth.Credit:Department of Justice
It has also uncovered serious concerns about Department of Justice record keeping and the loss of crucial CCTV footage in prison transport vehicles.
Department staff moved Anna 400 kilometres from Greenough Prison, near Geraldton on the state’s mid-west coast, to Bandyup women’s prison in Perth in April 2022.
Anna had schizophrenia, which would have been flagged with department staff, and in the time leading up to her transfer to Perth she had been displaying erratic behaviour and was refusing her medication.
Despite these issues, a pre-travel assessment in April made no note of medical or psychological concerns that could impact her planned transfer.
An initial plan to fly Anna to Perth was aborted by private contractor Ventia after she was found to have urinated on herself on the way to Geraldton airport and was refusing to wear a face mask.
A second pre-travel assessment was completed before Anna had even returned to Greenough prison after the first failed transport attempt, with very few changes to the first assessment other than calling her behaviour and recent attitude “poor” and noting that she had urinated on herself.
The department opted to drive Anna to Bandyup a week later where she was secured in the rear pod of the vehicle with handcuffs and leg irons, restraints that the custodial inspector suggested were overkill.
A timeline of events recorded by department officers noted Anna used the vehicle’s cell call system to abuse the officers on several occasions during the trip and at 1.37pm, when the vehicle had stopped halfway for fuel at the Cataby Roadhouse, noted Anna had a “toilet break in pod.”
Ryan said his office questioned what the officers meant by “toilet break.”
“No person should have to endure the type of treatment experienced by Anna on that journey”
“The department advised us that upon arrival at Cataby, Anna activated the cell call system and was verbally abusive to the escorting officers,” he said.
“The officers queried whether she needed to use the toilet or required anything else and Anna allegedly answered no before proceeding to urinate within the secure pod.”
Ryan said the department’s response confirmed the officers knew Anna had urinated herself, which was also confirmed by a male prisoner who was being transported in the cab of the vehicle on the same journey.
“She was allowed to continue the journey in wet clothing for a further two hours. There is no mention of providing Anna with a change of clothes, or a towel or toilet paper,” Ryan said.
Transparency concerns were also raised after Anna’s journey when inspectors requested to view the CCTV and audio recordings only to find the hard drive that stored the footage and audio was faulty.
Ryan said without this material they could not confirm whether Anna ever asked to use the toilet or how department officers responded.
“It is deeply concerning that when requested the department was unable to produce audio-
visual evidence of an incident that occurred inside a vehicle that it owns, maintains and operates,” he said.
“Should that incident have involved self-harm or a death in custody, it would not have been able to provide audiovisual evidence to demonstrate they were not negligent and wholly liable.”
Ryan also criticised the department for not noting Anna’s behaviour and urination on the offender database or using incontinence aids that were available at Greenough prison.
“The lack of transparency around Anna’s experience is concerning,” he said.
Shockingly, a similar case occurred on the same prisoner route two weeks prior, which Ryan said staff should have learnt from.
“It is concerning, and disappointing, that staff failed to learn from this earlier incident and implement measures, such as bringing a change of clothes or a towel, that would have helped protect the dignity and welfare of Anna during her journey a few weeks later,” he said.
Successive custodial services inspectors have heavily scrutinised prisoner transports in Western Australia since the death of Ngaanyatjarra elder Mr Ward on January 27, 2008.
Mr Ward, 46, was being transported 360 kilometres from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in a police van but was pronounced dead from heat stroke as the temperature inside the van’s pod reached 47 degrees.
“The case of Mr Ward remains a tragic reminder of the deadly consequences that can result when compliance vigilance slips,” Ryan said.
“No person should have to endure the type of treatment experienced by Anna on that journey,” Ryan said.
“I strongly recommended the Department review Anna’s experience and take steps to ensure that no other prisoners are exposed to similar mistreatment.
“Transporting prisoners over long distances comes with inherent risks that are only genuinely mitigated when on-the-ground actions match policy and procedure.”
Apart from Anna’s story, Ryan’s report found generally the Department of Justice and contractor Ventia transported prisoners throughout regional WA safely and efficiently.
He made 14 recommendations to improve prisoner transport practices in regional WA including developing processes for providing comfort breaks to prisoners.
There have been 65,191 movements of prisoners in WA between 2018 and 2021.
Corrective Services Commissioner Mike Reynolds said he was pleased the review recognised pre-
movement processes over the health, safety and well-being of prisoners were functioning well.
“Staff were also found to have a good understanding of the various processes and understood their specific roles,” he said.
The department was contacted for further comment.
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