In late July/early August 2015, the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services conducted its sixth inspection of Hakea Prison, the metropolitan remand and receival centre for men established in 2000.
Hakea is a prison under enormous stress and pressure and we see little on the horizon to suggest that this situation is likely to change anytime soon. The total prison population is rising at an alarming rate across the entire estate (an increase of 66% in total population over the past 9 years) and the remand population is growing at almost double that rate (129% in the same period). Hakea is chronically full, having to pass on more remand and sentenced prisoners to other facilities, primarily Casuarina Prison, to make room for anticipated further court receivals. It is also crowded, with a large majority of cells designed for one but shared by two.
Hakea is also facing significant budget and resource pressures but making little headway in containing its costs in its industrial environment. And there are aspects of its infrastructure that are unacceptable, including crowded accommodation, the management unit, the video-link facility and the lack of interview rooms for counsellors managing a-risk prisoners.
The inspection did acknowledge the effective work undertaken by staff at Hakea to receive and manage a diverse group of people committed to custodial care, some of whom are troubled or difficult to manage. Yet many staff members were very negative about their workplace, prison management, and the Department, stating that things were the worst they had ever been.
The report made a number of findings relating to fundamental human rights including a failure to ensure all prisoners had an adequate opportunity to call loved ones on being received into custody; to uphold prisoner rights to privacy and dignity; quality contact with children; ability to prepare one’s legal defence; and religious expression. There is unequal access to recreation facilities, especially for those in protection.
A number of findings related to risk issues including those relating to self-harm and suicide, health, safety, and security. For example, despite having over 280 Aboriginal prisoners at Hakea, and despite the known issues of suicide among young Aboriginal men, there was very little Aboriginal representation on the peer support team (indeed only one attended the peer support team meeting that was held during the on-site inspection) and none in either reception or orientation. Peer support is an essential component in WA Prison’s suicide prevention strategy.
Aspects of prisoner health and welfare were also of concern, including the lack of variety in food, the scheduling of medical appointment, disease control and failure to address smoking reduction. We were especially concerned at the continuing failure to reduce the high risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses through sharing of needles and other sharp instruments used for drug use and tattoos, something that was also raised in the 2012 inspection.
The Department took 11 weeks to respond to the 29 recommendations made in this report, and while all but three were supported none prompted specific time-framed action on the part of the Department. It was clear in many cases that the Department did not take seriously the findings of this inspection. Failing to address the issues – many of which involve little or no financial cost – will increase risks and will also reduce the capacity of Hakea, and the prison system as a whole, to achieve improved efficiencies and performance.
Unless major initiatives are taken to divert people from prisons, the need for a major new metropolitan facility for men is incontrovertible. As provided in our first recommendation, this should be a remand facility that embeds a regime based on the particular rights and needs of people who are as yet unconvicted of a crime, including accommodation requirements, welfare needs, safety concerns, visit requirements, official visits facilities, video link facilities, legal library resources, education, work, and recreation opportunities.