Story 15: Welfare and Legal Support for First Nations Peoples in Custody in WA

2019: Western Australia

The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Limited (ALSWA) Custody Notification Service (CNS) commenced in October 2019. CNS provides a 24/7 phone service delivering welfare and legal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are apprehended or arrested by police in WA.

King & Wood Mallesons provided countless hours of pro bono support for the implementation of the CNS in WA including assistance with the preparation of a comprehensive CNS manual, relevant policies and procedures, employment contracts, and reporting requirements. Immediate welfare and legal assistance at the crisis point of police custody, coupled with earlier and more effective access for vulnerable people to culturally secure legal and community services, has and will continue to transform lives.

As one example, a CNS Aboriginal support worker spoke to a young Aboriginal woman who had been arrested for alleged offending. The woman engaged well with the Aboriginal support worker and disclosed that she was pregnant but was trying to seek help with substance use and mental health. The CNS advocated for her while she was in police custody and also offered to provide assistance for any unpaid fines.

The woman agreed to a referral to ALSWA for legal representation as well as referrals to ALSWA’s Bail Support Service (BSS) and Work and Development Permit Service (WDPS). After receiving the referral, BSS assessed the woman in custody and developed a comprehensive bail support plan which included referrals and practical support to attend Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) counselling and mental health treatment, reminders and transport for court, and support to attend antenatal appointments.

The woman was released on home detention bail and she received comprehensive support from BSS in the community. She attended regular AOD and psychological counselling and all of her antenatal appointments. After a period, the home detention condition of her bail was removed because of her high level of compliance. The woman gave birth to a healthy baby who continues to reside with her and her other child. BSS also assisted the woman with housing issues and training opportunities. In addition, the WDPS helped the woman reduce her outstanding fine debt though time to pay arrangements, fine expiation orders and work and development permits.

The woman has complied with bail for well over 12 months. The CNS intervention was a catalyst for this woman to obtain the necessary supports in the community to change her life.

This story was submitted by Aboriginal Legal Service of WA Ltd.