The death of Mr. Ward led to an improved focus on welfare during prisoner transports
Mr. Ward was a 46-year-old local Aboriginal Elder who died of heatstroke at Kalgoorlie District Hospital on 27 January 2008, after collapsing in the back of a custody transport vehicle.
The Coroner found that Mr. Ward suffered heatstroke while being transported in the rear pod of a prisoner transport van where the air-conditioning was not working (Hope, 2009). The 360km journey from Laverton to Kalgoorlie occurred on a day where the outside temperature was over 40 degrees celsius. The temperature inside the rear pod was estimated to have reached 50 degrees. And, the body temperature of Mr. Ward at Kalgoorlie Hospital following his death was 41.7 degrees exceeding the normal range of 36 – 37 degrees (Hope, 2009).
In addition to heatstroke, a post-mortem examination found Mr. Ward had suffered thermal burns to his body. The Coroner found these were caused prior to his death where he lost consciousness and fell to the metal-plated vehicle floor. The burn was considered significant enough to determine that the surface temperature of the van was extremely hot (Hope, 2009).
The Coroner found that the vehicle used to transport Mr. Ward was not suitable for the transportation of prisoners over lengthy journeys. The wear and tear of the vehicle over an eight-year period had contributed to it being unfit for use. The level of supervision by escorting officers, ability to communicate with Mr. Ward, and CCTV coverage of the rear pod were also found to be inadequate (Hope, 2009).
The Coroner also noted both GSL, the transport contractor, and the Department had no written policies on conducting regular physical welfare checks of prisoners throughout journeys. There were also no written policies on the provision of food and water. The Coroner was also critical of the practice to provide prisoners empty bottles or jerry cans to urinate in, rather than pre-arranging comfort breaks at local police stations or fitting transport vehicles with on-board toilets. These issues led the Coroner to believe there had been a failure in the duty of care and concern for the dignity of Mr. Ward (Hope, 2009).
At the conclusion of the inquest the Coroner recommended the Department replace its existing transport fleet, develop welfare policies for prisoner transportation, and conduct regular reviews of transport contractor services in regional locations.