Dental service provision is inadequate causing ongoing dissatisfaction from prisoners 

Prisoners have higher dental needs compared to the general population and have limited options to seek treatment and access pain relief. Therefore, it is imperative that prisoners can access dental care when necessary. However, there are not enough dentists to meet demand and access is largely dependent on where a prisoner is held. It is unsurprising then, that prisoners continually expressed their dissatisfaction with dental care and the lengthy wait times through various complaints mechanisms.

Limited evidence there is adequate oversight of dental care

Dental services are provided to prisoners under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health. The arrangement ensures that data is jointly shared between the two departments. However, the Department of Justice could not provide this data during our review and relied on the Department of Health to supply it. This demonstrates limited oversight of the services provided, which is compounded by a lack of systemic reviews or evaluations of dental health. Without ongoing analysis of the types of dental services provided and to whom, we are unsure how the Department can substantiate that prisoners are receiving timely and sufficient dental care.

Barriers to dental care are obvious, but not well managed

A number of barriers limit prisoners’ access to dental care. This includes a limited number of appointments, made even more scarce due to inflexible and slow administrative processes. Additionally, staff shortages due to daily absences, and lockdowns limit the time prisoners can access dentists, and escorts to both private and publicly provided dental appointments may be cancelled. Excessive restraints, that do not match the level of risk, may also deter prisoners from accessing the dentists in the community or paying for their own private dental appointments.

Page last updated: December 2, 2021
Prisoner access to dental care in Western Australia