In 2014, women’s imprisonment in Western Australia was in crisis. That year we inspected Bandyup Women’s Prison for the fifth time, and found that the prison had borne the brunt of that crisis.
Bandyup had experienced overcrowding, indifference, and structural inequality for years. We do not suggest that the sidelining of women’s needs was intentional. However, department policies and priorities had seriously disadvantaged women. The Department of Justice has not had a Director of Women’s Services or similar high-level position with a singular focus on the women’s estate, for many years. This coincided with a loss of focus on services for women in custody.
On the day our report of the 2014 Bandyup inspection was released, the Department announced that Units 11 and 12 of Hakea Prison would be transformed into a 256 bed, maximum-security, remand and reintegration facility for women. The new prison would take on the metropolitan remand function for women, and simultaneously provide specialist reintegration services.
Tenders were called for, and in July 2016 it was announced that Sodexo Australia Pty Ltd would manage the new facility. Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility commenced operations on 15 December 2016.
At the time the new facility was announced, Western Australia had a Liberal government who were pro-privatisation, and pushing to increase the outsourcing of services. Serco held all three existing contracts for custodial services in the state, and the government was keen to introduce a new player to drive contestability.
By March 2017, the political landscape had changed. The new Labor government was less supportive of outsourcing. During the election campaign Labor had announced plans to convert two privately operated prisons into state run drug and alcohol rehabilitation prisons. The 80-bed Wandoo Reintegration Facility run by Serco, was to transfer back into public hands on 1 May 2018, and be operated by the Department as a rehabilitation prison for women.
The opening of a fourth metropolitan facility for women in Western Australia will be a positive, in terms of the increased capacity, diversity of accommodation options, and greater potential for services. But the broader role of Wandoo as a women’s prison, and how it will sit within the women’s estate remains unclear. We hope the Department learns some lessons from its experience opening Melaleuca around the importance of clarity of role and purpose prior to the facility coming online.