At times it is necessary to use force in custody. Custodial officers have the power to use reasonable force to gain compliance with an order, to protect the safety of prisoners and staff, and restrain a person in custody. The use of force presents many risks for staff as well as to people in custody. Unreasonable or inappropriate use of force also brings legal and reputational risks for the Department of Justice.

In 2017 the Department introduced additional oversight of the use of force in the form of local and central committees to examine incidents. Serious incidents are escalated to the central committee, which also examines trends, training gaps and other systemic issues and explores options to reduce the use of force and staff assault incidents.

This review will examine the appropriateness of the use of force in adult facilities.

Review terms of reference:

  1. Is the use of force in custodial facilities consistent with law and policy?
  2. Is the degree of force used the minimum required to control the situation?
  3. Are the local and central use of force committees effective at identifying and addressing issues arising from use of force?

A report on this review is anticipated to be available to the public by early 2021.

Western Australia’s prison population is ageing. In the last ten years the median age has increased from 33.5 years to 35 years.

Researchers, policymakers, and corrections administrators have yet to reach a consensus as to what constitutes an ‘older offender’ and definitions vary substantially. Despite this, many use the definition of prisoners 50 years or older. This is based on research that identified an apparent 10-year difference between the overall health of prisoners and that of the general population. The acceleration of the ageing process among prisoners is generally attributed to a combination of lifestyle factors prior to entering prison, including poor nutrition, substance misuse, and a lack of medical care. There is also an understanding that prison environments accelerate age-related illnesses and conditions.

Roughly just over 10 per cent of the prisoner population in Western Australia is aged 50 years and older. These prisoners compound resource challenges because they are more likely to have health problems. They also have different needs in terms of daily regime, and transition requirements from prison.

This review will examine the current number of older prisoners in Western Australia and trend for this cohort over the last decade. The review will also assess planning for the ageing prisoner population.

Review terms of reference:

  1. What are the trends for the older prisoner cohort for 2010 to 2020?
  2. Are similar trends being observed in other Australian jurisdictions?
  3. Does the Department of Justice have a forward plan that considers the ageing prisoner population and anticipates, an plans for, what their needs are likely to be?

A report on this review is anticipated to be available to the public by mid-2021.



The health risks of smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke are well known. In Australia, tobacco use is the leading risk factor for disease and premature death, and it is estimated that smoking could be linked to one in eight deaths. Previous estimates of mortality rates have underestimated or failed to consider Aboriginal populations with new research showing that smoking causes half of all deaths in older Aboriginal people.

As community knowledge of the health risks has increased, smoking rates have decreased. However, this is not reflected in prison populations where almost 8 out of 10 Western Australian prisoners self-identify as smokers.

Smoking has been banned in most Australian prisons, except in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. In 2008, Western Australian banned smoking in prison buildings, but prisoners and staff are still permitted to smoke in outdoor areas. A full ban has never been implemented.

This review will examine prisoner smoking trends, and incidents related to smoking including stand overs, bullying, and gambling. It will also examine the implementation of smoking bans by other jurisdictions, the implications of these bans, and any plans in Western Australia to manage or ban smoking in prisons.

Review terms of reference:

  1. Are the risks for people who smoke in prison effectively managed, including by offering quit programs to those wanting to cease smoking?
  2. Are the risks for people who do not smoke in prison adequately mitigated without a full ban in place?
  3. Does the Department of Justice have a forward plan to manage smoking in prisons including effective procedures which address issues of bullying, stand overs, and gambling?

A report on this review is anticipated to be available to the public in November 2021.

The demand for dental services in custody is high. Prisoners generally have poorer oral health than those in the wider community. Many socioeconomic and lifestyle factors contribute to this, particularly substance use and misuse. People in custody are more likely to come from socially excluded or disadvantaged backgrounds with high levels of unemployment. This often accompanies tooth decay-inducing diets, lack of oral health education, and a low perception of oral health.

In Western Australia, prisoners can receive routine dental examinations and treatment of a type that is available to the general public through the public health system. Any prosthetic and orthodontic treatments are at the prisoner’s own expense. However, despite these provisions, there are many challenges to delivering dental services in prisons. This includes the high number of urgent or emergency cases, staff resourcing, and security considerations. These challenges can be compounded by prisoner anxiety and understanding about dental services.

Review terms of reference:

  1. Do arrangements for the provision of dental services meet demand?
  2. Are the challenges in dental service delivery, and the barriers to accessing services, effectively identified and managed?

A report on this review is anticipated to be available to the public in October 2021.

Page last updated: 22 Mar 2021

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