Indigenous prisoners in police custody get 24-hour counselling hotline

Long-time campaigners say Western Australian measure is a ‘disappointing reductionist version’ of the custody notification service they were promised

The Western Australian government has expanded a scheme to provide support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners to cover people held in police custody, but death in custody campaigners say the new scheme is not what was promised.

It comes four days before an inquest into the death in custody of 40-year-old Maureen Mandijarra, who died in the police-lock-up in Broome on 30 November, 2012. Her family and lawyers intended to push for a formal custody notification service to be included in the coroner’s recommendations.

From Thursday, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people held in prisons or police lock-ups in Western Australia will be able to request access to a 24-hour hotline that will connect them with the Aboriginal Visitors Scheme (AVS), a support and counselling service that is primarily staffed by Aboriginal people.

The government says the expanded scheme will effectively act as a custody notification service and will reduce the potential for self-harm or suicide among in custody.

But long-time campaigners in this area, including relatives of Aboriginal people who have died in custody, said the announced measure was a “disappointing reductionist version” of the type of service they had been promised.

Shaun Harris, whose niece, Ms Dhu, died in police custody on 4 August 2014, told Guardian Australia it was “another kick in the guts.”

“They know well enough the level of support we have got for a notification service,” Harris said. “Typical WA solution. They have only introduced about half of the national standard … it’s bloody incredible.”

Read the rest of the story at The Guardian.