Extreme-heat jail finally gets aircon fix

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Air conditioning will finally be extended to every cell in a remote prison in Western Australia where temperatures have exceeded 50C.

The units will be installed at Roebourne Regional Jail in the 2023-24 financial year and will cost more than $10 million, Corrections Minister Bill Johnston said.

Concerns about extreme heat at Pilbara Institution have been raised for years, with a custodial inspector in 2020 expressing grave concern over the lack of climate control in ordinary prisoner accommodation.

In response, the state government listed the ice machines among existing “effective controls” and claimed that prisoners in the area were accustomed to the heat.

The temperature at Roebourne soared above 50C earlier this year, with the WA Native Legal Service calling the treatment of prisoners inhumane.

Mr Johnston said the government had listened to community concerns about the potential effects on the health and safety of prisoners.

“This is a significant investment by the state government in the welfare of inmates at Roebourne Regional Jail,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This project will take into account local climatic conditions and the challenges of installing air conditioning in a humid tropical environment.

“Prior to the completion of this work, prison management will continue to be vigilant to protect the well-being of inmates through existing practices.”

Mr Johnston said the facility had air conditioning in some common use areas and in cells for prisoners with medical conditions and those who worked outside.

Most prisoners rely on fans to cool their cells during the summer.

Premier Mark McGowan hosted a meeting on Wednesday to discuss issues at Banksia Hill youth prison, including the use of dangerous restraint techniques.

The government has ordered staff to stop using the “folding” technique, which involves using your body weight to force a person’s arms and legs against their head.

Judges, barristers and attorneys have also raised concerns about repeated closures at Banksia and the decision to transfer a small group of teenagers to a stand-alone unit at Casuarina maximum-security adult prison.

Mr McGowan told Parliament that the meeting with stakeholders had been positive and that further changes would be announced in the coming weeks.

The state government has been forced to delay a number of projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, mainly due to labor and material shortages.

An on-site youth rehabilitation center in the Kimberley will open in the second half of 2023, six months later than originally planned.

It will offer up to 16 places each year to teenagers aged 14 to 17 as an alternative to Banksia Hill, the government announced this week.

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