Inspections

Under sections 19-20 of the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2003 (the Act) we must inspect and report to Parliament at least once every three years on the following sites:

  • 17 prisons
  • five prison work camps
  • one juvenile detention centre
  • all court custody centres
  • police lock ups that have been ‘prescribed’ to be used as court custody centres.

We also have jurisdiction to inspect prisoner transport arrangements but, unlike prisons, are not required to report on this every three years.

Our inspections of prisons and detention centres usually involve one to two weeks on site, depending on risk and complexity. We generally provide three to four months’ notice to relevant parties of the dates that we will be on site. The Inspector has the power, should this be necessary, to conduct inspections that are unannounced or preceded by a short notice period. We rarely conduct unannounced inspections, but we do regularly conduct unannounced or short notice liaison/monitoring visits.

We have a robust process of evidence gathering and inquiry. Before the period onsite, we conduct surveys of staff and people in custody, analyse data and documents, and hold meetings with senior staff and external service providers. We may also invite external consultants to join an inspection to supplement internal expertise.

During the onsite inspection period, we examine the physical environment and infrastructure, and observe all key processes and interactions. We meet prison management, staff groups, prisoner groups, and community representatives, and talk to individual staff and people in custody.

Most managers of places of custody try to take immediate action to address our concerns when they are within their control. However, some matters can only be addressed with head office support or resources.

At the end of the time onsite, the Inspector gives an ‘Exit Debrief’ to staff, local management and head office representatives (usually the Commissioner or Deputy). This outlines our interim findings and indicates areas where recommendations are likely. We also give broad feedback to people in custody.

After taking account of any immediate feedback, we provide confidential copies of the Exit Debrief to the Minister, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Public Administration, Corrective Services and other relevant parties within a week. If an individual or an agency believes our interim findings involve factual errors or problems of balance, they can request further meetings and provide additional information.

Section 20 of the Act requires the Inspector to prepare an inspection report following each inspection, detailing the inspection findings and recommendations. Legislative provisions and agreed practices enable the Minister and the Department to be fully aware of the contents of reports prior to their release. In essence, the Act requires that before expressing a critical opinion in a report, the Inspector must give the other person an opportunity to make submissions. Agreed protocols, including a Memorandum of Understanding between the Office and the Department, further embed due process practices.

As such, after the on-site period has concluded, a draft report is written and is sent to the Department for comment. Usually the Department has four weeks to provide comments on the facts in the report and to work on its responses to the report’s recommendations, including the extent to which it supports the recommendations. Its responses are included in the report and progress against the recommendations is monitored.

Our Act imposes a minimum 32 day embargo period after a report is received by Parliament. It also requires reports to be tabled on a Parliamentary sitting day unless the Inspector decides it would be unreasonable to delay tabling. This means the public release of all our reports is delayed for a month after it is finalised.

 

Liaison

The full value of an inspection system cannot be realised if activities are limited to reports of inspections once every three years. More effective is a process of ‘continuous inspection’ that allows performance and risks to be monitored and identified for the Minister, the Government and Parliament on an ongoing basis. ‘Liaison visits’ are one of the most important tools that the Inspector uses to enable continuous inspection.

We conduct regular ‘liaison visits’ to all places of custody in our jurisdiction. These visits are a crucial element in monitoring performance, risk and improvement opportunities. In addition to liaison visits, we also visit sites on a less formal basis.

Our visit schedule reflects risk, and therefore varies between sites and over time. We visit most prisons at least four times each year, and the higher risk prisons and Banksia Hill Detention Centre at least six times a year. We generally visit work camps and court custody centres at least once a year.

Liaison visits can be announced or unannounced. We usually give some advance notice so the facilities can help us engage with relevant staff and people in custody, but it is common for visits to be conducted at short notice. We will do unannounced visits as necessary or appropriate.

Review

The Inspector of Custodial Services Amendment Act 2011 was enacted in response to the Coronial inquest into the death of Aboriginal elder, Mr Ward, in a prisoner transport vehicle. It expanded and embedded the Inspector’s powers to examine aspects of custodial services and the experience of individuals or groups of people in custody. It may also include examining administrative arrangements for providing services.  We developed the ‘review’ function to exercise these powers.

Like inspections, reviews lead to findings and may include recommendations. Since 2012, we have addressed a wide range of topics relating to security, safety, rehabilitation and management.

We use multiple sources of information to derive, and validate findings. These include academic and professional reviews, evidence from other jurisdictions, and data from the Corrective Services’ offender management databases. We also use other departmental documents (such as evaluations, strategic plans, budget papers, and business cases), as well as advice from stakeholders and service providers.

Unlike inspection reports, there is no requirement for reviews to be tabled in Parliament and made public (section 34(2)(b) of the Act). However, for reasons of transparency, accountability and system improvement, our practice is that:

  • review reports will be tabled in Parliament unless there are exceptional reasons not to, such as safety, privacy or security
  • if the Inspector does decide not to table a report, confidential copies will be sent to the Standing Committee on Public Administration, the Minister, and Corrective Services.

Like other reports from the Office legislation and agreed practice enable the Minister and Department to be fully aware of the contents of reports prior to their release.  At certain points throughout the review, briefings will be offered to the Department to discuss emerging findings and allow the opportunity for comment to be made and errors to be addressed.

In essence, the Act requires that before expressing a critical opinion in a report, the Inspector must give the other person an opportunity to make submissions.  Therefore a copy of the review draft is provided to the Department before it is finalised.

Usually the Department has four weeks to provide comments on the facts in the report and to work on its responses to the report’s recommendations, including the extent to which it supports the recommendations. Its responses are included in the report and progress against the recommendations is monitored.

Our Act imposes a minimum 32 day embargo period after a report is received by Parliament. It also requires reports to be tabled on a Parliamentary sitting day unless the Inspector decides it would be unreasonable to delay tabling. This means the public release of all our reports is delayed for a month after it is finalised.

If you would like to become an Independent Visitor or require further information, please contact the Coordinator of the service on 6551 4221 or email: corporate@oics.wa.gov.au

The Independent Visitor Service is an integral part of the State’s accountability mechanisms. Under the Act, the Minister appoints Independent Visitors (‘IVs’) on the advice of the Inspector, and the Inspector administers the service on behalf of the Minister. IV reports assist the Inspector to provide advice to the Minister and to inform the work of the Office.

The IVs are a highly qualified and diverse group of community volunteers who bring skill, insight, and common sense to the role. They make an invaluable contribution to resolving issues and improving oversight.

People held in prisons and detention centres are able to tell IVs their views and to raise concerns about their treatment and conditions. Before leaving the facility, IVs debrief with the Superintendent or Deputy so that matters can be resolved as soon as possible.

After a visit, the IVs send us a report on their findings. We assess the report and send it to Corrective Services with our comments and requests for additional information. Corrective Services then returns the report with its responses.

 

More information on the Independent Visitors is available here.

What we don’t do

The authority of the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services is provided through the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2003.  The office role is to give independent advice to Parliament on state of custodial facilities and the rights of staff and people in detention.  The Office works alongside other accountability agencies in WA as well as government agencies who protect the rights of individuals and provide impartial resolution services.  Each of these agencies has a predefined role which cannot be duplicated by this Office.

This Office does not investigate fraud or other criminal matters

The Inspector of Custodial Services cannot investigate criminal matters. If such a matter is brought to our attention or we become aware of it through our work, then it is automatically passed to the Police or the  Corruption and Crime Commission.

This Office doesn’t investigate complaints relating to individuals

The Inspector of Custodial Services does not investigate complaints made by staff, prisoners, detainees or their families.  While it is often important that this Office understands the nature of a complaint this information is only used to understand whether systemic issues are occurring in the corrections system.  The Office cannot facilitate a resolution of a complaint for an individual.  Such matters are the mandate of the Ombudsman, Equal Opportunities Commission, or in the case of health or disability matters the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office (HaDSCO).

Page last updated: 20 Jun 2018

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