In October 2013 we released a report entitled Funeral attendances by incarcerated people in Western Australia. This was one of the first reviews we undertook after our review powers were extended in 2012. The review was a priority because funerals are one of the most frequent causes of concern raised during inspections. Complaints about restrictions for attending funerals are also raised by prisoners with independent visitors during their monthly visits. Prisoners’ families and community members also often raise concerns direct with our Office.
While access to funerals is important for any person in custody, it is especially important for Aboriginal people. Being at the funeral shows respect to the family and allows the person to grieve in a culturally appropriate way. Aboriginal people have significant cultural obligations with funerals. If they do not attend and spend time with the family, it may be seen as not valuing family.
In 2012 the then Commissioner of Department of Corrective Services stated the Department intended to save $500,000 a year by reducing funeral attendances of people in custody. To obtain these cuts, the Department made a number of policy changes restricting access to funerals. The October 2013 review by this office found that the Department was unable to quantify the cost of funeral attendances and therefore, was unable to calculate savings from reduced access.
Our report also highlighted significant deficiencies in Departmental policies and practices, particularly the impact on Aboriginal people in custody. While the review was being conducted the policy governing adult access to funerals was amended multiple times via notices and instructions, but the actual policy was not formally changed. This had the confusing result of policy no longer reflecting practice. The practice in place when the review was finalised reflected the Department’s intention to save money by reducing access to funerals. Specifically the Department was ignoring the significance of kinship ties in Aboriginal culture by only recognising a significant relationship if the deceased was a blood relative of the funeral applicant.
Our 2013 review resulted in several recommendations around improving access to funerals, understanding the costs of funerals, and improving communication about funeral access. All recommendations were positively supported to varying degrees by the Department. This report is a follow-up to that review.