Prison numbers skyrocket under Barnett Government

A recent report reveals the prison population in Western Australia has increased by almost a third since the Barnett Government was elected.

The snapshot of the state’s prison system by the Economic Regulation Authority shows that since 2007/08, prisoner numbers have jumped 32.3%.

It’s also been revealed that in 2013/14, the prison system housed an average of 5,030 prisoners per day, but the current prison muster is sitting at over 5,400.

“Given the prison system was designed to hold just under 4,000 prisoners, it’s clear that the system is overcrowded,” said WAPOU Secretary John Welch.

“The Barnett Government’s policies have had a direct impact on prisoner numbers and our prisons are now bursting at the seams, which is putting the system under immense pressure.”

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week reveal WA has the second highest incarceration rate in the country. The data shows that for the September quarter, WA had an imprisonment rate of 266 per 100,000 people, compared with the national rate of 187 per 100,000.

The ABS report also showed that WA has overtaken the Northern Territory to now have the highest incarceration rate of Aboriginal people in Australia. The figures for the September quarter show WA has an average of 3,672 Aboriginal prisoners per 100,000 Aboriginal people, compared with the Northern Territory rate of 2,851 per 100,000.

Mr Welch said the overcrowding in the prison system was creating a dangerous working environment for his members.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, three Prison Officers were assaulted, and the more overcrowded the prisons become, the more violence is likely to break out,” he said.

Mr Welch said while prisoner numbers were skyrocketing, staff numbers were not keeping pace.

“The prison system is understaffed, which has resulted in rolling lockdowns on several occasions in the past 6 months because there are not enough staff to operate the prisons safely,” he said.

“We have called on the government to hire extra Prison Officers as a matter of urgency and whilst it is recruiting, it is too little, too late.”

Note: While the prison population has increased by 32.3%, WA’s general population has only increased by 19.5%.