This report, based on interviews with 40 people, including prisoners, family members, mental health professionals, lawyers, Aboriginal leaders, and disability rights advocates, examines emblematic cases of deaths in custody, revealing repeated failures by authorities to provide adequate and culturally competent mental health services in prisons in Western Australia.
Nearly 30 years after the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners with disabilities remain at serious risk of self-harm and preventable deaths in custody.
- Human Rights Watch’s analysis of coroners’ inquest reports between 2010 and 2020 found that about 60 percent of people who died in prisons in Western Australia had a disability. Of the 60 percent, 58 percent died as a result of lack of support provided by the prison, suicide, and violence—and half of these deaths were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners with disabilities.
- Even in cases where the prisoner’s disability or mental health history was well-known and documented by prison authorities, staff failed to provide adequate and timely support that could have prevented the prisoner taking their own life or from being attacked by fellow prisoners.
- In each of the eight cases that Human Rights Watch investigated, corrective services failed to adequately recognize or address the risk, provide sufficient and timely support, and in some cases placed the individuals in conditions amounting to solitary confinement that increased the likelihood of self-harm and suicide.
- To prevent the over-imprisonment and deaths in custody of people with disabilities, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australia’s federal, state, and territory governments should implement all the recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2018 Pathways to Justice report, and the Change the Record Campaign.
The report urges the Western Australia government to end the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with disabilities, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and ensure timely access to effective and culturally competent mental health services in prisons.