The February 1 West Australian newspaper's website reported that police refused to reveal the results of a post-mortem examination on the body of an Aboriginal elder who died in police custody while being taken to Kalgoorlie in the back of a van.
Warburton elder Ian Ward, 46, collapsed in the back of a Global Solutions Limited (GSL) prison management company van on January 27 after a four-hour trip from Laverton to Kalgoorlie. He reportedly died a short time later at Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital.
Ward was being transferred to face a charge of drink driving, and GSL said he was found unconscious in the back of the van in the middle of the afternoon when temperatures outside exceeded 40oC.
Under the WA Labor government's deal with GSL, the company is responsible for prisoner transportation. GSL was awarded the $70 million prisoner transport, court custody and security services contract last year when the company bought out the previous private contractor, Australian Integrated Management Service.
GSL also administers the federal government's immigration detention centres. A 2005 federal government inquiry found GSL failed to provide medical assessments and treatments for injured detainees who were being transferred to the Baxter detention centre in South Australia from Maribyrnong, Victoria, in 2004. The inquiry found the van used to transport detainees was "unsafe and inhumane" with airconditioning design faults.
WA has the highest rate of Aboriginal imprisonment in Australia, with about 3500 Aboriginal prisoners per 100,000 adults compared with fewer than 2500 nationally.
After NSW, WA also has the highest rate of Indigenous prisoner deaths from apparent unnatural causes — about six deaths for every 10,000 prisoners. The national rate is five in 10,000 prisoners.