No clear definition of use of force

The Department of Justice’s new policy streamlines requirements and clearly distinguishes between use of force and use of restraint. However, the policy does not adequately define use of force and this lack of clarity translates to confusion among staff on the ground. This has been compounded by the policy’s introduction of ‘routine restraint’. This has led to some practices being inappropriately recorded and consequently being missed by accountability measures.

Data analysis is hindered by poor record keeping practices, but improvements are emerging

Incidences of force are difficult to analyse due to poor record keeping practices and a clumsy database that perpetuated those poor practices. This means we do not know how regularly force is used and neither does the Department.

However, the Department has taken important steps to address these issues. Recent changes to the database have improved how information is collected for use of force and use of restraints. The changes have also reduced the opportunity for collusion as identified by the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission. Our Office will continue to monitor the impact of these changes.

Force is used more often on vulnerable people

Some vulnerable groups of prisoners were more frequently subject to use of force. Aboriginal prisoners, remand prisoners and prisoners with cognitive impairments were disproportionately involved in use of force incidences. Conversely, female prisoners were less likely to be involved, although this did not extend to Aboriginal women who were also overrepresented.

Force was also often used to manage vulnerable prisoners in crisis who had made threats to self-harm or had self-harmed.

Internal oversight is structurally sound but not yet effective

The Department has five levels of internal oversight designed to objectively evaluate use of force incidents. Each of these levels are demonstrating varying degrees of effectiveness. While there are sound structures in place, the slow establishment of review committees, governance issues and substandard CCTV have contributed to the ineffectiveness of the oversight structure.

Page last updated: June 21, 2021
Use of force against prisoners in Western Australia