First Nations woman in prison 'made to go without medication for days'

Aboriginal Women in WA Prisons

Nicolas Perpitch ABC 19 December 2014

A Perth Aboriginal woman sent to prison for unpaid fines says she was treated like a dangerous criminal and became very sick when forced to go without her blood pressure medication for three days.

The Department of Corrective Services has rejected the claims and in a statement said Meretta Kickett had received "appropriate and quality medical care throughout her incarceration".

Meretta Kickett
Image: Meretta Kickett said she had to do without her blood pressure medication for a number of days.

(ABC Online)

Ms Kickett, 45, called police to her Armadale home three weeks ago because she was having problems with one of her children.

When the officers arrived they realised she had $4,000 in unpaid traffic fines and money owed to Homeswest and power companies, and outstanding warrants for her arrest.

Ms Kickett said she tried to tell the officers she had only temporarily stopped paying down the fines because she needed the money to travel after several deaths in the family.

But she was detained and taken to the East Perth Watch House.

"They treated me like a real bad criminal. I'm not a murderer, I'm not a rapist," she said.

At the watch house, she said she was asked for her signature for authorisation to obtain her medical records from her doctor.

She was then sent to Bandyup Women's Prison where she asked if she could have her daily blood pressure medication, but was told it would take time to obtain authorisation from her doctor.

The department said Ms Kickett was assessed and medical staff were on duty to provide care.

"She was medically assessed on admission and provided with appropriate medical treatment," the statement said.

"Medical staff were on duty at the prison all weekend and able to treat Ms Kickett if required."

The department said prisoners were not allowed to bring personal medication into a prison.

"All medication required by a prisoner must first be verified though the prisoner's physician and approved and authorised by the department's medical staff," the statement said.

"Prescribed medication is issued through the pharmacy at Hakea Prison."

Ms Kickett was in Bandyup over a period of four days, including a weekend.

"Without no blood pressure tablets I ended up getting sick in there," she said.

She said her blood pressure was taken at the prison's medical clinic and it was very high, "about" 160 over 110.

Ms Kickett said she was given medicine for her headache, told to go and lie down, and the next morning blood pressure medication was provided with her breakfast.

Outcome could 'have been far worse'

Pat Dudgeon, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Western Australia and a national mental health commissioner, said it was "frightening" Ms Kickett's medical condition had not been addressed.

She pointed to the case of 22 year old Miss Dhu who died in August after being locked up in the South Hedland police station over unpaid fines.

Miss Dhu was taken to the Hedland Health Campus on three occasions.

"Meretta had a medical condition and that wasn't addressed and that is really frightening," Professor Dudgeon, a Bardi woman said.

"We could have had another death in custody.

"I wonder about the system and does it properly look after the health of people when they are incarcerated?"

The Department of Corrective Services has been contacted for comment.

Last month, the state Opposition released figures claiming the number of Aboriginal women jailed for defaulting on fines had increased from 33 to 223 between 2008 and last year.

One in six Aboriginal people in prison were there because they had not paid fines.

Earlier this month, Premier Colin Barnett made a personal commitment to reduce the number of Indigenous people in the state's prisons and address deaths in custody.

Professor Dudgeon said Ms Kickett's story was not uncommon.

"This is the reality for a lot of our Aboriginal community people," she said.

"They aren't bad people, they aren't going around doing bad things.

"But circumstances, poverty or lack of opportunity mitigate against them and then they end up in jail. That's not right."