Government tries to cover up true extent of prison overcrowding

The WA Prison Officers’ Union has accused the State Government of trying to cover up the true extent of WA’s prison overcrowding, after a new report revealed the system is operating at 148% of its intended capacity.

The report by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services found that instead of using the national benchmark of design capacity, ie how many prisoners a prison was originally designed to hold, the government was using a different measurement which was hiding the extent of overcrowding.

“Prisoner numbers have skyrocketed under this government, with the population increasing by 770 in the last financial year alone,” said WAPOU Secretary John Welch.

“Instead of increasing the capacity of the system, the government has just been cramming more and more people into existing facilities and then trying to hide the numbers by using different measurements.

“This has created dangerous conditions for hardworking Prison Officers, who are dealing with the effects of an overcrowded system.”

Mr Welch said the OICS report provided an excellent snapshot of the problems being faced by the prison system.

The report also found many prisoners were being held in cells that didn’t meet national and international standards.

Mr Welch said the government should have started planning for a new prison at least three years ago.

“The government is so far behind the eight ball that our prisons are going to be overflowing by the time a new prison comes on line years down the track,” he said.

“They’ve made a tokenistic announcement of $1.2 million for planning, but this is a far cry from the estimated $500-$700 million they’ll need to build a new prison, and there is absolutely no money in the forward estimates for it.

“A new prison takes years to plan and build, which means even if the government starts planning today, it could be up to seven years before we actually have an operational prison.

“The government has left its planning far too late, despite repeated warnings from us and the OICS.

“If the prison population keeps increasing at current rates before a new prison is built, we’re going to be in danger of running out of places to put people.”