WA Coroner slams powers to arrest street drinkers after Aboriginal woman dies in jail

The State Coroner has called to abolish the power of WA police officers to detain people arrested for street drinking, following the death of a Broome woman in custody in 2012.

Balgo artist Maureen Mandijarra, 44, was arrested for drinking on Broome's Male Oval on November 29, and was escorted to the Broome Police Station lock-up.

Police were unaware of her pre-existing medical condition, and left Ms Mandijarra to 'sleep off' the effects of her drinking.

Ms Mandijarra was later found unresponsive by a supervising officer, and was pronounced dead on November 30.

West Australian coroner Ros Fogliani led the investigation into Ms Mandijarra's death, and recommended Parliament reconsider the powers of police officers to detain a civilian for street drinking.

"I recommend that Parliament consider the abolition of the power to arrest and detain an intoxicated person for street drinking where the police officer reasonably suspects the person will continue street drinking unless the person is arrested," she said.

"This inquest highlighted the risks posed by detaining a heavily intoxicated person in a lock-up, particularly overnight.

"It also drew attention to the undesirability of detention in a lock-up for street drinking where no other criminal activity is identified or suspected.

'"There is a risk that under some circumstances, such arrests and detentions may impact disproportionally upon Aboriginal persons."

Ms Fogliani highlighted a 'cycle of despair' Ms Mandijarra had experienced due to the loss of her parents at a young age, worsening health issues and domestic violence- and suggested incarceration was an inappropriate response to address her issues.

"Looking back, it is clear that arrest and detention was not the answer," she said.

Ms Fogliani also recommended compulsory health assessments be conducted by a trained health professional before an individual can be detained, as it was found officers had no knowledge of Ms Mandijarra's physical diseases and alcoholism.

"The risk involved in detaining a heavily intoxicated person in a lock-up, particularly overnight, is not to be underestimated," she said.

"The assessment of the likely effects of intoxication on a person's general health ought not be left to police officers. A health assessment is required. A clinician is also able to take account of other relevant health conditions that may be exacerbated by the intoxication.

"Intoxication is not of itself a criminal justice issue, nor should it be seen as merely a social issue. It is primarily a health issue."

Police Minister Michelle Roberts told the ABC the Government would "give very serious consideration to the coroner's report and her recommendations".

The Broome Police Station has improved as a result of the inquest, with additional resources allocated to the area and a dedicated Lock-up keeper assigned to the task of cell supervision.

This story WA Coroner slams powers to arrest street drinkers after Aboriginal woman dies in jail first appeared on WA Today.