Prisons must be humane towards women

A new Corrections Minister usually brings hope but, for some women prisoners of Bandyup jail in WA, reality is sleeping on the floor of a crowded cell, head jammed against a toilet bowl. CLA’s WA Director Rex Widerstrom calls on Minister Murray Cowper to treat female prisoners – WA’s second-class citizens – humanely.

New prisons Minister passes up the chance for change

Brand-new Corrective Services Minister Murray Cowper has turned his back on a chance to treat female prisoners – WA’s second-class citizens – humanely, says Civil Liberties Australia’s WA spokesperson Rex Widerstrom.

“The fact that women are sleeping on the floor at Bandyup Prison with their heads jammed up against toilet bowls does not indicate the Department is ‘managing well’,” Mr Widerstrom said. “If a jail has 300 prisoners when it was designed for 183, something is wrong with the system. Mr Cowper has a chance to fix it but he seems happy to fall into the habit of his predecessors, whose first and only response was to deny anything is amiss.

“The Minister should consider that just under a third of the women are on remand, presumed innocent but detained awaiting their day in court. Many of the convicted women are victims themselves, of domestic violence or childhood sexual assault. They shouldn’t be kept in conditions like Indonesian gaols. Such treatment makes a mockery of rehabilitation, and increases the risk of unrest and danger to prison officers.

“The Minister’s job is as much about representing people in our gaols as much as it is representing the Department. If he doesn’t understand that, Civil Liberties Australia would be happy to brief him.”

Mr Widerstrom said the issue also raises question as to the efficacy of the Office of the Custodial Inspector.  “It must carry out unannounced inspection of prisons, to avoid manipulation of its reporting by the authorities. Quite simply, it’s blindingly apparent that no one is safeguarding the welfare of detained females in WA.”

He said that Civil Liberties Australia took a case to the State Administrative Tribunal over female prisoners being treated differently to men, suggesting this was because they were less likely to riot. But the Department made blanket denials of what appeared self-evident, arguing a marked difference in treatment was basically just a coincidence.

“It’s obvious women are treated as second-class citizens in WA,” Mr Widerstrom said.

“The last hope for these detained women rests with the recent change of Minister. Mr Cowper is new to the portfolio; he needs to seek advice from outside the Department as well as from within it before deciding he’s happy with the status quo.”

Ends

For further comment:          Rex Widerstrom

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