Gerry's article below is about the decision by the UK multinational corporation Serco and the WA Department of Corrective Services to deny Aboriginal prisoners access to prisoner transport to attend family funerals.
The article will appear in the National Indigenous Times this week.
Gerry Georgatos on Aboriginal Funeral outrage
The National Indigenous Times has been contacted by two sources during the last couple of weeks, one within the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) Western Australia and another within SERCO, that Aboriginal inmates will no longer be transported to funerals. Instead they may be left with the option of paying their respects to loved ones by either viewing a recorded or where possible live screening of the funeral and the procession while alone in a prison wing room. This has been slammed as inhumane, and culturally inappopriate by most Aboriginal Elders.
Both sources said that this initiative was flagged allegedly due to SERCO's reluctance to transport prisoners to funerals. The multinational which has the contract to much of the State's prisoner transport, and manages Acacia Prison, on the outskirts of Perth, and the lucrative Immigration Detention Centre network Australia-wide, is allegedly reluctant to provide compulsory funeral attendances for Aboriginal inmates - it has been alleged that SERCO management claimed high prison officer risk issues at funerals and also allegedly cost benefit issues. SERCO is one of the world's wealthiest companies.
UWA law student and Nyoongar rights activist Marianne Mackay the former chairperson of the Deaths in Custody WA contacted the National Indigenous Times a few days ago to confirm that she had also been advised that an Aboriginal prisoner was refused transport to a funeral last Friday. "This is a first, it doesn't happen that one of our people is not allowed to attend a funeral. Apparently SERCO refused to transport him and this has stunned us considering how everybody knows how important it is for our people to attend funerals. It attacks our cultural integrity."
SERCO communications spokesman Tim Evans said, “The issue was discussed at length at WA Estimates hearing in July when the decision was made by the Department of Corrections.” There was no other comment.The WA Estimates did not discuss some of the allegations raised by the whistleblowers. Questions will be tabled next week in State Parliament in response to the claims by whistleblowers in this article.At the WA Estimates the WA Commissioner of Corrective Services Ian Johnson said the State Government had asked him to make a two per cent saving in their budget. “We had spent around $1.1 million to transport people to funerals. We certainly recognise there is an importance in doing that. There is significance, obviously, for all people to attend funerals, but particularly for Indigenous people in terms of their family relationships. However, how long is a piece of string? It becomes a situation where you cannot control the expenditure in continuing to provide the opportunity for people to attend funerals,” said Commissioner Johnson.
He said that Skpye had been successfully trialled for prisoners who could not be transported to funerals. Aboriginal rights advocates described this as an outrage for their people.
Another Nyoongar rights activist, Iva Jackson-Hayward has responded with a call for the State Government to ensure that the DCS and SERCO ensure Aboriginal inmates do not have their cultural rights eroded. "The DCS and SERCO are dutibound to protect the rights of our people. Aboriginal women and men in prison cannot break their customary duty to attend funerals. It's outrageous what is happening, and it's a human rights abuse. This is all about money, and SERCO trying to make more of it by abusing the rights of our people. It is the Government's duty to pull SERCO into line."
Ms Mackay said the Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan was contacted on Friday.
The WA Prison Officers Union (WAPOU) said the State Government should scrap SERCO's prisoner transport contract. WAPOU Secretary John Welch made this call following another whistleblower's leaking of serious allegations.
The whistleblower said SERCO transported prisoners to wrong prisons, was late in bringing prisoners to their Court appearances, transported seriously ill prisoners in prison vans instead of ambulances. It was only a couple of months ago a prisoner who had open-heart surgery was returned to the prison in a van instead of an ambulance and arrived with serious injuries which the DCS tried to play down however CCTV footage proved otherwise.
All three whistleblowers said SERCO was not turning up to transport Aboriginal prisoners to family funerals, and that SERCO made no effort to account for its failure.
Mr Welch said SERCO's failure to ensure contracted prisoner transports gave rise to stress and tensions in prisons.
"These latest allegations are so serious that the Barnett Government should cancel SERCO's contract and bring these services back for the Department of Corrective Services to run so that we can be confident the community is being kept safe."
Australia has one of the world's worst prison suicide rates, with privately run prisons, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, enduring proportionately more deaths in custody than Government run prisons.
Other serious allegations were made by the whisteblowers to the National Indigenous Times and we will follow these through.