: Continuing crisis with WA Prisons, but some good news as well

Continuing crisis with WA Prisons, but some good news as well

Steven Castan
Western Australia

WA continues to have issues with the running of its $1 billion a year prison system as the total prison population rose to over 5100 in April.

On the one hand some prisons such as Bandyup women’s prison are in severe meltdown, with inmate numbers reaching a level whereby the prison cannot be run safely. At Bandyup up to 30 inmates have to sleep on mattresses on the floor. To cope with this accommodation crisis, the government is considering shifting men from Greenough Regional Prison to Hakea and Acacia Prisons, to make room for more women.

On the other hand, the $17 million Warburton prison work camp sits almost empty with only five inmates being held at a cost of $1.4 million per year.

Four camps such as the Warburton minimum-security facility, designed to assist in rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, are empty or under-utilised. The Barnett government is building a fifth camp at a cost of $14 million that is estimated will cost $3.2 million each year to run.

In further negative news, in April, up to 20 prisoners rioted at the Albany Regional Prison, which has exceeded its capacity by nearly double and, in Banksia Hill detention centre, youths recently caused more disturbances damaging cells in the incidents.

The prison crises have now reached a point where Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis, in an interview with the West Australian, stated that the government is holding an urgent review by Corrective Services Commissioner James McMahon. The review is said to look at a complete overhaul of the system examining which prison facilities and assets were under-utilised and which were overstretched.

However, a rare good news story in relation to WA prisons comes from Derby, where the West Kimberley Regional Prison is being hailed as a potential ‘game changer’ for Aboriginal incarceration rates. The prison, which is the newest in the state, emphasises rehabilitation by teaching inmates life skills and instilling a sense of pride and independence. Prisoners live in self-contained houses, according to family ties, and are locked in at night. The prison runs a self-care model. Inmates manage their own budget, cooking and cleanliness. They are taught healthy eating, and life skills for employment on the outside.

The success and uniqueness of the prison is considered by some to be the benchmark of prison quality for Indigenous inmates. Critics such as Warren Mundine have, however, raised concerns that the focus and funding should be on programs on the outside of jail walls in communities, not once Indigenous youth are in detention, where the cycle of incarceration has already started. Only time will tell if recidivism rates drop from programs like that in Derby.

STEVEN CASTAN is a WA-based barrister and nationally accredited mediator.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 143
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