Attending a funeral allows the mourner to openly grieve, be supported by others with shared feelings and, in turn, to provide support to other mourners. The Department of Corrective Services (the Department) allows approved adult prisoners and juvenile detainees to attend funerals.
In the decade from 2003 to 2012, 6,014 prisoners and detainees were escorted to funerals across Western Australia. Aboriginal prisoners and detainees make up around 42 per cent of the custodial population but accounted for around 79 per cent of funeral attendances. This figure reflects the very high rate of Aboriginal imprisonment, Aboriginal mortality rates and cultural/family obligations. Aboriginal people have significant cultural obligations to attend funerals. If a person does not attend a funeral and spend time with the family, it may be seen as not valuing family. The fact that an individual is in prison does not necessarily relive them from their obligation to attend or the consequences of non-attendance.
Prisoner and detainee attendance at funerals poses inherent difficulties which must be managed by the Department including managing security concerns and victim issues. In addition, like any other government department, the Department is required to manage its resources in an efficient, economical and effective way. There are costs associated with allowing prisoners and detainees to attend funerals and these costs must be balanced with the costs of meeting other prisoner needs. It would be plainly unreasonable to expect the Department to enable all prisoners who make a request to attend any funeral. Nor would it be appropriate to prevent all prisoners and detainees from attending funerals. What is needed is a system that allows access to funerals for those with the greatest compassionate need to attend.
To govern the system, a policy that is fair, equitable, transparent and flexible is required. Currently PD9 and Youth Custodial Service Rule (YCS Rule) 801 govern funeral attendances by prisoners and detainees respectively. The various rules address security and potential victim issues. They also outline the process for applying to attend, including the need to verify the significance of the prisoner’s or detainee’s relationship to the deceased. The cost of prisoners and detainees attending a funeral is borne by the Department.