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Australian women’s prison place of “palpable anxiety and despair”

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Summary of story from The Sydney Morning Herald, October 7, 2011

Western Australia’s (WA) main women’s prison, housing mainly Aboriginal prisoners “is the very antithesis of a therapeutic environment”, according to a new report.

Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan, in his report on Bandyup Women’s Prison, has suggested that the WA government could be liable to challenges under the Equal Opportunity Act.

He said it could only be speculated as to “whether the slow response by prison administration” to the “impoverished” prison conditions “exploited women’s relatively passive nature and relatively disempowered Aboriginal status.”

“We found too many areas where the facilities and services for the women prisoners fall well short of equal treatment with male prisons,” Mr Morgan said.

“Unit One … is a particularly hard place in terms of its impoverished infrastructure, the obvious levels of mental illness and the palpable anxiety and despair.”

Bandyup was meant to hold a maximum of 188 prisoners but held 269 in August last year. As a result, 90 women were forced to sleep on mattresses on cold concrete floors.

“The integrity of mattresses became compromised … and 140 had to be replaced because they were mouldy, torn or soiled,” Mr Morgan said.

“Together with the extreme cold and lack of ventilation, the overcrowding of cells created condensation to levels that constituted a risk to health,” he said, explaining that steamed-up windows could not be used by prison officers to check on prisoners’ safety.

The women, forced to share their cells, also lacked privacy, especially when they had to use the toilet and clean themselves in front of each other during lockdown.

The WA government made a “massive” investment in extra beds for male prisoners between 2008 and 2011, but no extra prison beds were earmarked for women.

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