At the conclusion of the inspection, the Inspector presented eight challenges, which, if accepted, could see Boronia and the wider female prison estate transformed into a model of excellent and innovative women-centred custodial practice.
The one challenge that emerged most prominently as a theme was for Boronia to be open to challenge and change, agile, responsive and innovative, rather than defensive and content with the status quo.
Overall, Boronia was found to be performing well, and, given their capability and history of achievement, we expect that they can do better. Hence the Inspector’s challenge.
The crowding across the prison system did catch up with Boronia and the centre had to increase its capacity significantly. So, at the time of the inspection, it now accommodated 91 women. The extra residents were largely double-bunked and this impacted on their capacity to have extended and overnight visits with their children.
The limited scope of the section 95 program at Boronia was particularly frustrating. We had recommended expansion to the program in 2012, which was repeated again in this report. Whilst a handful of residents were leaving the facility to work as part of the section 95 work program, the rest of the residents were not being afforded the option of leaving the centre to engage in different community activities, which had always been the vision for the pre-release centre.
The Departmental change in the definition of supervising officer was one factor impeding the residents’ capacity to engage in activities outside the centre under section 95. Whereas previously, escorts could be supervised by suitably trained public servants working at the centre, these now had to be done by staff with specific prison officer training, and there was not a surplus of prison officers at Boronia to facilitate these.
The increased number of Aboriginal residents at Boronia was a positive inspection finding. We believe that Boronia is now well-placed to do more for this group, hence the recommendation that the Department implement an Aboriginal women’s re-entry strategy.
We found there could be more engagement between the mothers with resident children and management. The mothers with resident children felt isolated, particularly regarding access to expertise on parenting.
It is important that there is a greater commitment to discovering exactly how effective Boronia is in managing its custodial strategy. To this end we recommended, yet again, that an independent evaluation of Boronia’s post-release outcomes be commissioned and published by the Department.