Aboriginal detainees in the area Western Australia detained in unbearable heat cells filled with snakes and rats.
A custodial inspection report has highlighted great concern about the risk of heat in Roebourne prison, which last year swelled throughout the hottest day in March anywhere in the world when temperatures reached 48.1C.
But WA’s corrective service department has rejected recommendations to install air conditioners in cells, registered an ice machine among existing “effective controls” and claims prisoners from the region are accustomed to heat.
Medium-capacity 221-security prisons in the Pilbara region accommodate men and a small number of women, with Aboriginal prisoners comprising 79% of the population.
It was described after a previous inspection in 2016 as the worst prison in WA and a danger to prisoners.
The latest visit, which took place in May last year, noted improvements with inspector Eammon Ryan praising staff for their positive involvement with detainees.
But significant problems remain, including flyscreens tears that allow snakes and mice to infest cells.
Flyscreens are scheduled to be replaced last year by heavy duty metal filters which according to prisoners will reduce much needed air flow.
“Detainees are also disappointed that air conditioners have recently been installed in staff toilets in the units, but not in any detention room,” Ryan said in a report filed in parliament this week.
“We, in the past, have heard the argument that men and women in Pilbara are accustomed to this condition.
“Although this might happen, they may not be routinely locked in a small room with one or more other adults for 12.5 hours or more every night.”
In response, corrective services said the prison maintained a flexible routine to adapt to heat conditions, a number of air-conditioned cells were available for medical conditions and prisoners who were not from the region were prioritized for transfer.
The custodian service inspector’s office also publishes reports to Casuarina prison, the country’s main maximum security facility.
While accommodating around 1,000 convicts and returning prisoners, a gradual expansion will increase capacity to around 1,500 in the coming months and nearly 1,900 by 2023.
Ryan said the prison had struggled to occupy such a large population, with less than a third holding meaningful jobs.
“Casuarina will be the largest prison ever operating in Western Australia and one of the largest in the country,” he said.
“The risk is that Casuarina will be a place where prisoners are only shed, and rehabilitation is reduced.”
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