Bandyup is the state’s primary and pivotal prison for women. Following the 2014 inspection, the Inspector characterised Bandyup as the most complex and neglected prison in the state.
In recent years there has been massive investment in male prisons and very little investment in female prisons. This is despite the fact that the rate women’s imprisonment has been growing rapidly, and at twice the rate of male prisoners. Departmental policy documents have proclaimed the need for female prisoners to be afforded greater and targeted priority, yet this has not been carried through to fruition. Another three years of inaction has seen Bandyup pay a heavy price.
The 2014 inspection found that little progress had been made against the 2011 recommendations, and in many areas the situation had worsened considerably. As a result, the 2014 inspection report contains a total of 40 recommendations, many of which repeat or echo those which have been made previously.
It is heartening however that of these 40 recommendations, 38 were supported by the Department, either in part, in principle or in full. Furthermore since the onsite phase of the inspection, small and generally inexpensive changes at Bandyup have had a positive impact.
Thus while there is some hope for Bandyup’s future, it is entirely dependent on the Department and Treasury’s recognition of the need for targeted and significant investment in the women’s custodial estate. Past failure to acknowledge the severity of neglect at Bandyup has taken a significant toll on the facility, its staff and the women who are held there. While this Office does not suggest that the Department and Government of Western and Australia have intentionally sidelined women’s needs, the effect of its policies and priorities has been to substantively disadvantage female prisoners.
While the prospect of a new women’s prison is many years away, decisions regarding the use of existing assets and infrastructure cannot be postponed any longer. Such decisions however, must reflect need and not numbers alone. The 2014 inspection found that in particular, Bandyup was unable to adequately service the following cohorts: women with mental health needs, minimum-security prisoners, and those on remand. Any decisions regarding new facilities for female prisoners should therefore be made with the needs of these groups in mind.