This was the sixth Announced Inspection of the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison (‘Eastern Goldfields’), but the first since the commissioning of the new facility. The old Eastern Goldfields, built in 1980, had been found unfit for purpose since inspections had commenced in 2000. The new prison opened in August 2016, seven years after funding was announced, and thirteen months behind schedule.
The last inspection in 2014 found the old prison enjoying clear leadership, professional staff relationships, and positive interaction between staff and the majority Aboriginal prisoners. The oval and several industrial workshops had been lost to construction of the new prison next door, but some maintenance of existing infrastructure continued. The education centre provided vibrant and innovative programs, with careful and appropriate gender mixing. Despite squalid living conditions, goldfields and desert prisoners preferred Eastern Goldfields to newer metropolitan prisons.
The Inspector had voiced two concerns. Preparation for transition to the new prison had lagged, and the future of the minimum-security work camp at Warburton Community was threatened by lack of qualified prisoners.
This inspection was very different. Built infrastructure at the new prison was excellent, providing a strong physical foundation for socially and culturally appropriate service delivery. At the end of 2016, the prisoner population was growing as new staff came on line. Changes to senior management had bedded in.
Just before the inspection, a prisoner escape prompted a tightening of security that reduced prisoner movements. Recreation outside units was cut. Education was in recess. Unemployment remained high. Very little was happening. Even the Warburton Work Camp was closed.