After 33 years, it’s time for urgent jail cell ligature point action

After 33 years, it’s time for urgent jail cell ligature point action

The Law Society of Western Australia has written to the State Government calling for the urgent elimination of ligature points across WA’s medium and maximum security prison cells – 33 years after the recommendation was first made.

In a letter to Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia in May, the Law Society said it was echoing the concerns of WA coroners Philip Urquhart and Michael Jenkin, who have both included the recommendation in numerous coronial findings delivered in recent years.

The ligature point minimisation recommendation was first made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which handed down its national findings in 1991.

The recommendation, one of 339 made by the inquiry, was to help reduce the number of suicides in prisons.

In 2008, the WA Coroner called for a capital works program to be established to increase the number of fully ligature point minimised cells across WA.

In March this year, Coroner Michael Jenkin described  the need for the work as a “matter of the utmost urgency” at Melaleuca Women’s Prison, following a prisoner suicide there in 2020.

He made previous recommendations on the minimisation measure in 2019 and 2022, following deaths at Casuarina and Hakea prisons.

Law Society President Paula Wilkinson said the delay in implementing the measure across WA’s medium and maximum security prison estate was inexcusable.

“The Law Society of Western Australia strongly shares the concerns of the WA’s Coroner’s Court in regard to the extremely slow progress of this measure,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“At inquests, Department of Justice representatives have cited cost as a factor. The Law Society does not believe that cost can be attached to such a measure, which has the potential to save lives,” she said.

“As our prison population increases, so too does the number of prisoners with mental health issues and it is this cohort that is most vulnerable to suicide in our prisons,” Ms Wilkinson said.

It was alarming that so few cells across WA had been ligature-point minimised.

“We know that, as of September 2022, only 3.9% of cells at Hakea Prison had been fully ligature point-minimised, according to evidence at the Coroner’s Court, while 39.1% weren’t minimised at all,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“Coroner Jenkin described that as ‘truly lamentable’ and the Law Society agrees.”

The Law Society has asked the State Government for progress details on any work undertaken since last August’s Coroner’s Court recommendation for urgent action – and what further commitment will be undertaken.

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