Custodial environment pressures

Significant changes in the structure and leadership of the Department

On 1 July 2017, the Department of the Attorney General and the Department of Corrective Services merged to form the Department of Justice.

This has the potential to promote a more coordinated approach to justice services and to improve service delivery. However, it has taken a long time for the changes to bed in. The announcement of the permanent appointment of the Commissioner of Corrective Services was only made in May 2018, and the new structure for the administration and leadership of corrections has not yet been determined.

This has resulted in some instability and uncertainty in correctional facilities, as roles and processes are redefined. This is not ideal given the pressures that exist in prisons with increasing populations and budgetary restrictions. Having been through two upheavals and restructures in five years, Corrections is also change weary, with many parts of the organisation sceptical of change.

Introduction of alcohol and other drug facilities

The new government came into office in 2017 with a commitment to introduce new facilities with a specific focus on drug and alcohol treatment.

From 2012 to April 2018, Wandoo was managed by Serco as a reintegration facility for young men. We have previously reported that it was performing well, and had achieved good outcomes for the young men. The contract expired on 31 October 2017, but was extended to 30 April 2018. It was then brought back from an outsourced model to being managed by the Department.

Consistent with its election commitments, the new government has repurposed Wandoo as an alcohol and other drugs rehabilitation prison for women. The therapeutic community is being run by Cyrenian House and it has the potential to deliver real outcomes for women.

The 77 beds in Wandoo will improve a women’s estate that has suffered from years of neglect. But it is disappointing that it has come at the expense of a facility that was delivering positive outcomes for young men, most of whom also had serious substance abuse problems.

The Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility for women was carved out of the existing Hakea Prison. It is operated by Sodexo under contract with the state government. The contract started in late 2016 and runs to July 2021. Initially, the new government said it would convert Melaleuca to a male ‘meth-rehab’ facility. However, this would have placed intolerable pressures on Bandyup Women’s Prison. The male alcohol and other drugs facility will now be accommodated within the Casuarina Prison footprint. We welcome the focus on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but it remains to be seen whether a truly therapeutic community can operate within a large maximum security prison.

The single facility for youth justice has been a failure

Since October 2012 Banksia Hill has been the only youth custodial centre in the state. It houses males and females; children as young as 10 and young adults aged 18-plus; young people from every part of the state; and both sentenced and remand youth.

Following a period of instability in 2016-2017, Banksia Hill Detention Centre was more settled during 2017-2018. However, it remains fragile. Progress must be maintained. And while Banksia Hill has been more stable, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the one-stop shop model has been a failure.

There is no silver bullet to improving youth custodial services. Banksia Hill has been the most inspected facility in the State with seven reports in six years. In our report on behaviour management practices in Banksia Hill (tabled on 17 July 2017), we recommended that the government consider smaller facilities across the state. This would allow better separation, better targeted programs for youth in conflict with the law, and an ability to keep young people closer to home.

The report attracted considerable public attention and support, and the Premier announced that the government will examine options for detaining young people from the Pilbara, Kimberley and the Goldfields in their local region rather than Banksia Hill. It will also examine alternatives for young women and girls. These are welcome developments but are yet to be realised.

During this year, we also published the report of an inspection of Banksia Hill conducted in July 2017, and completed a Directed Review of allegations of mistreatment at the Centre (published in August 2018).

The prison population is rising, but at a lower rate

The prison population continues to rise, but at a lower rate than in the last few years. Two of the key drivers of the increase are the remand and women’s populations, and Western Australia still has by far the highest rate of Aboriginal incarceration in the country (see below).

On 30 June 2018, there were 7,024 people in custody, including youth in detention. This is an increase of 142 people (or 2%) from the same time last year. This may mean the sharp increases experienced over the last few years have plateaued.

The number of people churning through custody is also rising:

  • In 2016-2017, there were 10,662 admissions to our prisons. This year, 11,728 people were admitted to custody.
  • In 2016-2017, 14,542 distinct people were held in custody at some point during the financial year. This year the number was 14,567.

Significantly, the rise in the prison population over recent years does not correlate with increasing crime.

We need to build a new prison or stem population growth

The prison system is already crowded to the point of risk. Prisons are increasingly becoming expensive warehouses rather than places for positive activity and rehabilitation. And the growth in prisoner numbers in the last decade is unsustainable.

The nationally accepted benchmark for measuring prison occupancy rates (contained in the Productivity Commission’s Annual Report on Government Services) is to compare design capacity with actual numbers. Using this measure, our 2016 report on prison capacity found WA prisons were at 150 per cent capacity.

From 2011 to 2017, the Department changed its definitions of capacity and tried to claim that prisons were not full. The reality is that:

  • the system as a whole is overcrowded
  • most individual prisons are overcrowded
  • the situation is unsustainable and risky
  • cell sharing conditions in some prisons are inhumane.
  • prisons have not been given the supporting infrastructure and services they need to support additional numbers.

The majority of cells in the state’s prisons are now routinely double-bunked. In 2010, the Department told us that double-bunking was a temporary measure. That was never a credible position and double-bunking is now routine practice. There are no signs that double-bunking will be reversed.

The effects of overcrowding have been compounded by the imposition of adaptive regimes under which prisoners spend less time in activities such as education, programs and recreation, and more time locked in cells or behind grilles. Adaptive regimes have increased due to limits on the amount of overtime that can be worked to cover staff shortages.

It is obviously necessary for the Department to reduce its expenditure. And the staffing arrangements, negotiated with the Western Australian Prison Officers’ Union, give certainty to staff and management. But they are inflexible and further penalise prisoners. This increases prisoner frustration and tension. These are likely to have been factors in the riot that occurred at Greenough Regional Prison in July 2018.

The Department’s Strategic Plan 2015-2018 aimed to meet projected growth through a capital works program including a new prison in Eastern Goldfields and expanding Acacia Prison. This provided around 750 beds, but still falls short of demand.

In December 2017, the Government announced that another 512 beds would be added to Casuarina and 160 to Bunbury Regional Prison. These new beds are necessary but they will do little to ease the levels of overcrowding.

The obvious solution is to reduce the prison population. Currently, apart from the Northern Territory, Western Australia has the highest number of prisoners per population with over 340 per 100,000 adult population.

The current government has stated that it wants to stem the prison population growth. However, it will take resources and strong political resolve to achieve long term reductions. Options that will need to be explored include:

  • a focus on Aboriginal community justice mechanisms
  • greater use of community supervision, including electronic monitoring
  • reducing the number of people on remand
  • reducing the number of women in prison
  • improving program delivery so prisoners have better chances of release on parole
  • reducing the flow of fine defaulters (this will not reduce the daily population but will reduce financial and human costs).

The Department also needs to work on a broader strategic plan for its custodial facilities. It has not had a strategic assets plan since 2013 and is hamstrung by a lack of flexibility in the management of its prisons.

We have the highest rate of Aboriginal incarceration in Australia and numbers are still rising

Western Australia imprisons far more Aboriginal people per head of the Aboriginal population than any other state or territory. Around one in 30 Aboriginal people is in prison at any given time in Western Australia. In the Northern Territory, which is second on the list, the rate is one in 45.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up three per cent of the Western Australian population, but 40 per cent of our prison population. The figures are even more pronounced for women and children. On 30 June 2018, 78 per cent of young people, and 47 per cent of women in custody were Aboriginal.

On 30 June 2018, there were 2,830 Aboriginal people in custody in Western Australia, including youth, an increase of 217 from the same time last year.

The remand population remains high

Five years ago, one in five adults held in custody was on remand. Now, almost one in three is on remand. People on remand have not been sentenced. Most have not even been convicted.

Hakea Prison is the state’s primary male remand facility. It is stretched, pressured, and unable to meet demand. It also accommodates almost 200 sentenced prisoners.

Insufficient capacity at Hakea means that other prisons whose infrastructure and operations are geared to sentenced prisoners must now house large numbers of remandees. This has generated serious pressures at other prisons, especially Casuarina.

People on remand must be a priority in government planning of future prison construction. They must also be given more support services, both in prison and on release. In the short term, Hakea should be turned into a dedicated remand facility and sentenced prisoners should be dispersed throughout the state.

The proportion of women in custody is continuing to rise 

Six years ago, there were 477 women in custody. On 30 June 2018, there were 753, an increase of over 63 per cent. Women now make up almost 11 per cent of the prison population, compared with eight per cent a decade ago.

The women’s estate was neglected for many years, even as money poured into more male beds. Until the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility for women opened in December 2016, Bandyup Women’s Prison was the state’s most overcrowded and stressed prison.

Bandyup is still suffering from aged infrastructure and adaptive regimes. However, the pressure on the women’s estate reduced when Melaleuca opened. It will be further reduced by the opening of the re-purposed 77 bed Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison.

Melaleuca, which is privately operated by Sodexo, had a troubled start, with too many incidents and issues of concern. We therefore brought our first inspection of the prison forward to November 2017. We found that there were still some significant issues, but that the prison had started to improve. Key issues include:

  • site limitations and under-investment in infrastructure
  • too little for the women to do
  • the wrong prisoner mix (nowhere else in Australia mixes remand and reintegration at such an inappropriate site)
  • the Department’s failure to ensure coordination with Bandyup.

A new re-entry services contract created uncertainty

The Department contracts re-entry support services from an external provider. Outcare had held the contract for such services in metropolitan male prisons for many years. In December 2017, the Department announced that Outcare’s contract would not be renewed. The new contracts were awarded to the ReSet consortium. This is led by the Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and includes Centrecare, St Bartholomew’s House, and Wirrpanda Foundation.

The new contracts have positive potential but the transition was complex. The Department appeared to have underestimated the level of effort required. Communication with key parties, including prisons, was poor, and there were gaps on contract performance measures and contract management processes.

We are also concerned that the scope of services under the new contract has been reduced. Whereas Outcare had offered services to every prisoner, the ReSet contract only targets those assessed to be at medium to high risk of offending. It appeared to exclude remand prisoners and services were limited to 2,435 clients. Changes are apparently in train to fill some of the gaps.

It is too early to assess the effectiveness of the new contract arrangements and change in service delivery requirements. We will continue to monitor service provision and the adequacy of contract management and evaluations.

OICS Pressures

Budget constraints and workload

Over the past six years, we have managed our budget well and have successfully driven cost savings. We will endeavour to continue to do so.

However, our funding has sharply declined relative to spending by the services we oversee:

  • In 2009, when we had only the inspection function and not the review function, we were funded at around half of one per cent of the corrections budget.
  • The review function means we now do significantly more work. We had a small increase in funding for this work but our overall funding has dropped to just 0.4 of one per cent of the corrections budget. If we were still funded at 2009 levels, we would have more than 20 per cent on top of our current budget allocations, solely for inspections.
  • We have not obtained additional funding for new prisons.
  • We are not funded by reference to the prison population, and do not receive extra funding when the capacity of individual prisons is expanded.
  • We had a 3.5 per cent budget cut in 2017-2018.
  • We lost a position in 2017-2018 to the Voluntary Targeted Separation Scheme. This has required work to be redistributed to others in the Office.

We need to remain responsive to risks

Despite budget constraints and the loss of FTE, we have continued to be responsive to emerging risks and issues. The best examples are the tabling of 10 reports (8 inspections and 2 reviews) along with the production of one additional report (not tabled) in 2017-2018. And undertaking the directed review into the Amnesty International Australia allegations of mistreatment of young people at Banksia Hill.

However, budget constraints make it increasingly difficult for us to meet our statutory responsibilities and to provide advice that reduces risk and maximises opportunities. In future, we may:

  • be unable to inspect prisons with the same rigour and depth
  • have a reduced on-site presence
  • be unable to review some high risk services
  • not have the capacity to bring forward inspections and reviews to meet Parliament and government expectations.

There is growing national momentum for independent inspections

A number of jurisdictions have recently established, or will be establishing, independent Inspectorates modelled on Western Australia:

  • The New South Wales Inspector started in 2012.
  • Tasmania established an Inspectorate based in the Ombudsman’s office in 2016.
  • The Australian Capital Territory established a stand-alone inspectorate in 2017.
  • South Australia has given its Guardian for Children and Young People an inspection function.
  • The Victorian Ombudsman published an inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in November 2017.
  • Queensland and Northern Territory have announced they will establish Inspectorates.

The Inspector and other staff have given support to the establishment of these Offices and the development of inspection standards for each jurisdiction.

In December 2017, the Federal Government ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). OPCAT requires all states and territories, and the Commonwealth, to implement systems of independent oversight for all closed places. These include prisons, youth detention centres, secure mental health facilities, and places of police custody.

Given the existence of this Office, OPCAT implementation will be more straightforward in Western Australia than other jurisdictions.


Page last updated: 16 Nov 2018

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