Roebourne Regional Prison (‘Roebourne’) has always been a source of concern to the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services. Inspection reports over the years identified numerous problems which included: fragile staffing arrangements, poor prison infrastructure, and the dehumanising effects of overcrowding and inadequate climate control. Improvements were noted during the 2010 inspections in areas relating to custodial staffing numbers, conditions for women and external training activities.
Following our most recent inspection of Roebourne in September 2013, we were very concerned about some of the conditions at the prison and services affecting prisoner rehabilitation, including education, the Aboriginal Visitors Scheme, offender program delivery, and limited industrial employment opportunities. These failures were particularly concerning given Roebourne’s recidivism rate of 44.1 per cent, which is significantly worse than the state average of 35.6 per cent.
We were also very disappointed at the closure of the women’s precinct at Roebourne causing their displacement to facilities in other regions away from their children and extended families. The small women’s remand section is now quite strictly segregated from the normal running of the prison. Women we met before and during the inspection expressed bewilderment, frustration, and anger at the degree of confinement they experienced compared to the men, the lack of any structured activity, their neglect at times by staff, and the lack of ready access to a telephone.
We also remained concerned about many aspects of prison infrastructure including the failure to replace substandard bunk beds to meet relevant safety standards, the state of many of the cells and unit amenities, a wholly inadequate recreation infrastructure, an inadequate health care centre, and the lack of climate control for most prisoners. As the hottest prison in Australia, it is time the State properly exercise its duty of care to prisoners in this facility. Given the time required to plan, approve, and then build a replacement prison at Roebourne, it is important that the Department consciously consider a formal life extension program for the prison.
Nevertheless, the inspection did identify a noticeable improvement in the prison’s staff culture. The management team was more united and, although there was room for further improvement, was communicating somewhat better with staff. The level of conflict and bullying among staff had also eased to some degree. In addition the education and vocational training unit had created a young and capable team with the potential to deliver a much more effective program in 2014.
There was also a palpable sense of hope surrounding the development of a new Town Work Camp and the opportunities it would provide the prison for regeneration.
However, the prison was facing significant challenges, including: staffing the new work camp; coping with significant budget cuts; and reinvigorating education, training, programs, and employment services for prisoners, while maintaining the success of programs such as VSwans and Big hART to reduce the prison’s very high rates of recidivism.
Given the concerns we have expressed regarding a number of areas in the prison, and the challenges that the prison is facing, we intend to conduct a follow-up inspection before mid-2015.