WA prisons: short on space and staff

The WA Prison Officers’ Union has called for the government to open four empty prison units to alleviate overcrowding in the state’s prison system.

The Union’s Secretary John Welch said the government had spent $67 million dollars building five new prison units at Hakea, Casuarina and Albany. However, while it opened some of the units, it then closed others, meaning very few new beds were created.

“WA’s prison system is designed to house around 3,650 prisoners, but currently there are about 5,100,” said Mr Welch.

“It’s ridiculous that prisoners are being forced to share cells between two or even three people while we have four units sitting there doing nothing.”

The empty units are designed to house approximately 260 prisoners and Mr Welch said some of them had been closed for more than two years.

“One unit at Albany prison was closed, apparently for refurbishment, almost 3 years ago, while another at Casuarina has been closed for about a year,” he said.

“It can’t possibly take that long for a refurbishment and we think the government is stalling on reopening the units so it doesn’t have to spend money on staffing them.”

Mr Welch said the government also needed to urgently address the staffing issue.

“Casuarina is so short of staff that there have been several instances recently where prisoners have been locked down simply because there are not enough staff for all the prisoners to be out of their cells at the same time,” he said.

“Despite calling in staff members on over time to cover the shifts, Casuarina was still 19 staff short the Friday before last and 22 staff short two days later.

“This meant prisoners were on lock down for half the day due to no fault of their own.” Mr Welch said he was concerned that the issues would lead to tension in the prisons.

“Overcrowding and locking prisoners down for extended periods leads to tension and violence between prisoners and potentially against staff,” he said.

“We want this situation fixed before it gets to crisis point and puts the safety of our members at risk.”

Mr Welch said the government needed to increase Prison Officer numbers by at least an extra 100 prison guards to alleviate the staffing shortages.