WA Government confirms air conditioning to be installed at Roebourne Prison

The WA government has confirmed air conditioning will be installed in every cell at Roebourne Prison, following years of pressure from lawyers and activists over dangerous conditions at the jail.

Key points:

  • The government will spend $10 million installing air conditioning in every cell at Roebourne Prison by 2023-24
  • The move follows months of pressure from lawyers and rights groups
  • Temperatures soared to more than 50 degrees inside the jail last summer, with lawyers likening the conditions to “torture”

Temperatures climbed over 50 degrees in Roebourne last summer, with lawyers and former inmates likening the conditions inside the prison to torture.

Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston confirmed today that $10 million would be spent on the upgrade, which will not take place until 2023/24.

“In making this decision we have listened and responded to stakeholder and community concerns about the potential effect of the heat on prisoners’ health and safety,” Mr Johnston said.

“This project will factor in the local climatic conditions and challenges posed by installing air conditioning in a humid, tropical environment.

“Ahead of the work being completed, the prison’s management will continue to be vigilant in safeguarding prisoners’ wellbeing through existing practices.”

Temperatures in the Pilbara soared past 50 degrees last summer, triggering significant concerns for prisoners’ welfare.(ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson)

Government under fire on corrective services

The announcement comes in the wake of months of sustained pressure on Mr Johnston’s handling of the corrective services portfolio.

The majority of the prison’s inmates are Indigenous and the lack of air conditioning had previously been criticised by human rights, First Nations and legal advocacy groups.

Former inmates had described their “brains boiling” while being housed in the prison, with advocates saying a death in custody was highly likely without corrective action.

While the government came under further fire when it emerged a facility for stray animals in nearby Port Hedland would be built with air conditioning, at the same time it refused to countenance installing it in cells at the prison.

Mr Johnston had previously defended heat mitigation practices at the prison, including the provision of fans in the cells, ice machines and the regular monitoring of temperatures within the prison as adequate solutions.

“The prison, when it was built, was built to code – and there’s no legal obligation to put air conditioning into any element of Roebourne Prison,” Mr Johnston told the ABC earlier this week.

Human rights lawyer and Noongar woman Hannah McGlade said the announcement was long overdue and criticised how long it took the government to commit to expanding the air conditioning.

“Thank goodness the prisoners at Roebourne will not swelter through 50 degrees-plus,” she said.

“It does really highlight to almost an extreme level the issues facing Aboriginal people, particularly our lack of voice and respect.

“Of course Aboriginal people deserve equality of life and respect for human rights.”

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