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Western Australian Premier rewrites the book to avoid deaths in custody

Date posted: 5 May 2015

Dry-out centres for people who are intoxicated, jail diversionary programs for fine defaulters and new prison protocols are being planned by the West Australian government, in a bid to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody and lower the incarceration rates among the state's Aboriginal population.

Premier Colin Barnett said the reforms had been prompted by last year's torturous death of a 22 years Aboriginal woman in a watch-house in the Pilbara region, three days after she was locked up for $1000 in unpaid fines.

In an emotional meeting in South Hedland with the family of the woman, who is known for cultural reasons as Miss Dhu, Mr Barnett promised her mother, Della Roe, that her daughter's death would not be in vain.

Miss Dhu's case drew attention to the rocketing numbers of West Australians, especially Aboriginal women, clearing fines in jail. The number of Aboriginal peoples going to jail for unpaid fines jumped 480%, from 101 in 2008 to 590 in 2013.

The proposed measures will go to the West Australian cabinet within weeks.

'We are looking at alternative forms of accommodation,' Mr Barnett said. 'For example if someone is disorderly, drunk, or drug-affected, they will go to drying-out centres and the like rather than placing them in cells in police stations.'

He said there also needed to be reforms within the police and the prison system in how to deal with Aboriginal peoples in custody.

'There needs (to be) greater recognition of cultural factors, greater recognition of family and the need to keep family advised and probably also some liaison between police if they have someone in custody and the hospital and healthcare,' he said.

Source: The Australian

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Last updated: 5 May 2015
 
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