DCS denies prison problems

David SalvaireGeraldton Guardian
A report conducted this year suggested Greenough Prison holds 100 more prisoners than its capacity, but also says this is not uncommon around the state.
Camera IconA report conducted this year suggested Greenough Prison holds 100 more prisoners than its capacity, but also says this is not uncommon around the state. Credit: Richard Rossiter

The Department of Corrective Services has hit back at claims of overcrowding at Greenough Regional Prison after a Government report said the facility was operating at almost 150 per cent of its capacity.

In a scathing report on the State Government’s management of prisons, Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan found the Greenough prison had 100 more prisoners than the facility was designed to hold.

The snapshot report, conducted on June 30, 2015, found the entire WA prison system was at 148 per cent capacity, while most WA prisons were at 120-190 per cent of their capacity.

Dr Morgan also accused the DCS of failing to provide consistent and reliable statistics on capacity, saying terminology changes amounted to hiding the extent of the problem.

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The department uses figures based on the number of beds in a facility over a prison’s design capacity, claiming many prisons were built years ago and the original designs have changed.

“Yes, we often double-bunk, but we continue to provide a decent standard of care and focus on offender rehabilitation — we are not a five-star hotel,” a DCS spokesman said. “Claims that increased numbers in prison are causing problems are completely unfounded and wrong.”

The spokesman said despite prison numbers rising by almost 30 per cent since 2013, the department had halved escape rates and cut staff assaults by 16 per cent.

In another headache for the department, the WA Prison Officers’ Union used the report to highlight the growing strain on prison workers at Greenough.

“Greenough is a midpoint between the metropolitan and northern prisons, so it often has big bulges in the population and when you’re at levels near 150 per cent capacity, it’s very difficult to manage,” WAPOU secretary John Welch said.

“Our members are extremely stressed as a result of the chronic overcrowding — the workload has increased along with the pressure and the stress.”

The news comes days after Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis announced planning had started for what could be one of WA’s biggest prisons.

The facility is expected to be built in the Perth metropolitan area and will be designed to house between 1000 and 2000 male inmates.

“The new facility will enable Western Australia to accommodate projected rise in population appropriately. This ensures community safety, and importantly offers the best opportunity to reduce re-offending by providing rehabilitative activities,” a statement from the department said.

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