Our response to COVID-19
Updated June 2020
The emergence of COVID-19 and the official measures taken to combat its spread presented a challenge to our ‘normal’ way of doing business which relies on having a physical presence in WA’s custodial facilities and having regular interaction with interest groups, departmental staff, and service providers.
We ensured a ‘do not harm’ approach by restricting staff who could potentially carry the virus, from visiting facilities. We also had to work within strict travel restrictions around WA which impacted our access to many facilities in remote regional areas.
With the move shortly to stage four of the recovery phase, the Office has mostly returned to operating as we did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. We have largely recommenced liaison visits, full inspections and reviews. Visits by our volunteer independent visitors, who initially elected to temporarily defer their visits, have now mostly resumed.
However some impacts will be felt into the future. Our practice is to review the risks of each prison visit before travelling. Risks may be specific to individual staff members, volunteers, or specific to a facility. In particular, visits to regional facilities may be impacted for the remainder of the year as we determine how staff can maintain social distancing during travel and the availability of flights to regions. Our priority will always be to ensure staff, volunteers and prisoners are safe and feel safe.
Our initial response to COVID-19
In the early stages of the pandemic, we chose to reduce our routine physical presence at custodial facilities. Instead we successfully monitored facilities through:
- receiving daily reports and briefings from the Department of Justice about each facility covering:
- its health status
- staffing levels and allocation
- incident reports
- any changes to regular daily routine
- formal regular telephone briefings from the Superintendent or other senior leaders at each facility
- formal regular telephone briefings from prison support workers, and other staff whose primary role is care and wellbeing of prisoners
- daily monitoring of the department’s prisoner data base for each facility
- contact with prisoners, their families and representative organisations.
In addition, we adapted a formal scheduled inspection of a regional prison to inspect it on a ‘remote’ basis. Much of the methodology of a formal inspection was still undertaken. Assessment of documents, surveys of staff and prisoners, interviews of community groups and contractors were all completed. Information from over a dozen monitoring and liaison visits to the facility in the past three years was also analysed. Staff conducted telephone interviews with prison staff and managers.
In May 2020, when we entered stage three of the recovery phase, we relaxed some of these measures and recommenced physical site visits in metropolitan prisons. We then undertook a scheduled inspection of a metropolitan facility. While our on-site physical presence was not the same as our pre-COVID inspection, we did spend time at the facility. Small numbers of staff went to the prison to conduct targeted observation exercises and talk to prisoners and staff. These activities were staggered over a two week timeframe.
Now we are returning to inspections and visits as we used to, albeit with increased risk assessments prior to attending a facility. Our measured approach has been instrumental in allowing us to identify any emerging problems in making the transition back to attending custodial facilities. We will continue to work closely with all our stakeholders to find the right balance between safety and oversight.
Page last updated: 24 Jun 2020