Bandyup Women’s Prison is a complex and challenging prison. It holds an increasing number of remandees who are managed alongside sentenced prisoners. The prison holds women of all security levels, including those with cognitive impairment and extremely high mental health needs. Its population is up to 50 per cent Aboriginal, giving Bandyup the highest proportion of Aboriginal prisoners in any metropolitan prison. Furthermore, Bandyup holds women with infants and pregnant women from across the state.
Bandyup is also the most crowded prison in the state. The prison has an ‘operational capacity’ of 259, but there is no official cap on the number of women that can be held there. If a woman is remanded or sentenced in the metropolitan area, Bandyup is the first and only option. As a result, Bandyup’s population has recently peaked as high as 319. The Department’s Female Prisoners Plan 2012–2022 states that the preferred level of prison utilisation falls between 85 and 95 per cent. With a population of around 300 however, Bandyup’s capacity is over 161 per cent.
Despite piecemeal attempts to rectify the shortage of beds with leftovers from the male estate, and the addition of second beds into cells designed for one, female prisoners at Bandyup are still in the undignified position of having to sleep on mattresses on the floor of cells designed for a single occupant.
Bandyup was last inspected in 2011. The 2011 inspection report concluded that planning and investment for Bandyup and the broader women’s estate were urgently required, and that a failure to do so could result in past achievements being even further eroded. Unfortunately, the Department’s responses to the 2011 report elevated the Office’s concerns. Recommendations were made across a range of areas, particularly in relation to strategic focus, funding, and health/mental health services. Some of the Department’s responses to the report were factually wrong, some were out of touch, and there seemed to be little sense of urgency. The Inspector subsequently described the situation as a ‘passive acceptance of the unacceptable’.
In announcing the 2014 inspection of Bandyup this Office indicated that particular attention would be given to the following areas:
- The role of Bandyup as the primary women’s prison for Western Australia (in that it deals with all security classifications, and acts as a receival, remand, assessment, and sentenced prisoner facility) and its context within the women’s estate as a whole;
- Strategic planning for female offenders and prisoners across the state in light of their increasing numbers;
- How effectively Bandyup supports women in light of their family responsibilities;
- The services and options available for female offenders and prisoners aged 18 to 24;
- Mental health services for female prisoners and the provision of appropriate training for officers and staff; and
- The prison’s journey in the three years following the previous inspection (March/April 2011).
All of these themes were underpinned by the high representation of Aboriginal women in Bandyup’s population, and thus each included consideration of their particular needs and concerns.