A couple of days ago I published an article by George Monbiot on the privatisation of prisons causing deaths, corruption and the ethical and legal violation of human rights and criminal law. Monbiot was talking about the UK and US, but in Australia we of course have very strategies in place that ‘outsource’ the prison system to multi-national so-called security companies. And because profit maximisation comes before the respect for human lives it is not surprising that an Aboriginal man whose only ‘crimes’ were driving offences died of heat-stroke in a GSL van.
Elder in prison van death had severe burns
Natasha Boddy, 11th March 2009
The West Australian
An Aboriginal elder who died in custody suffered third-degree burns to his stomach following his collapse in the rear of a prison van where the air-conditioning was not working, a coronial inquest was told yesterday.
State Coroner Alastair Hope heard Mr Ward died from heatstroke on the 42C day he was transported in the non-air-conditioned rear sealed compartment of a prison van for the 360km trip from Laverton to Kalgoorlie. The inquest was told Mr Ward had burns to his stomach and elbow, which were consistent with being in contact with a very hot surface. After being taken to Kalgoorlie Hospital he was put in an ice bath. His body temperature was 41.7C and he later died. The inquest, at Warburton, was told Mr Ward, 46, was given only a 600ml bottle of water and a pie for the four-hour journey.
More than 50 people gathered outside the tiny community court for a public broadcast of the inquest, which heard Mr Ward was “an extremely hardworking and valuable member of the community”. Counsel assisting the coroner, Felicity Zempilas, said the inquest would examine several issues, look at the decisions of the private prisoner transport contractor Global Securities Limited and ask why Mr Ward had not been given comfort breaks or extra water.
Mr Ward had been remanded in custody after his arrest on January 26 by Laverton police, who charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol when he returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.22.. He was serving a suspended sentence for a driving offence.
GSL was responsible for transporting Mr Ward from Laverton to the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison. Det-Sgt Bradley Robinson, who investigated Mr Ward’s death, said that the air-conditioning unit in the rear compartment of the van had not been working. He said the unit was the only source of ventilation. Evidence revealed that faults with the airconditioning unit had been reported to GSL more than a month earlier. The inquest was told the GSL security officers heard a loud noise when Mr Ward collapsed in the van about 5km from Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The officers stopped and opened both rear doors, with the inner door only opened partially and secured by a security chain. “Both guards felt the heat coming from the back of the vehicle,” Sgt Robinson said. Mr Ward was unresponsive and the female security officer felt a faint pulse in his ankle. The guards took him to Kalgoorlie Hospital where staff spent more than an hour attempting to resuscitate him. Sgt Robinson said medical reports indicated that after 20 minutes of unsuccessful resuscitation, Mr Ward was placed in an ice bath with a fan and his body temperature was 41.7C.
The family have requested that Mr Ward’s first name not be published.