Albany functions as a regional prison, receiving and accommodating local people on remand, sentenced, or returning to custody, for example, upon breaching a parole order. However, fewer than 100 of its population comes from the Great Southern region. It is also Western Australia’s third maximum-security prison, and the only one outside metropolitan Perth. As such it is an overflow placement option for maximum-security prisoners from Perth or other regions, including those not receiving regular visits, and those in conflict with or vulnerable from prisoners in other secure prisons. Albany has traditionally held prisoners serving long or indefinite sentences with limited family ties. It has also tended to receive foreign nationals likely to face deportation at the end of their sentences.
At the time of the January 2015 inspection, Albany had a population of 299. A major extension to Acacia Prison had just been completed and shortly after that inspection, many prisoners were sent there to fill it up, leaving Albany with a population of just 228 in April 2015. But, numbers rose progressively after that, reaching more than 360 in early 2016, and over 460 late that year, doubling its numbers over 18-months.
This steep rise coincided with increasing staff shortages. Combined with strict overtime caps which applied from 2014 to mid- 2016, this meant prisoners were locked in wings for much of the day, sometimes going for days without access to outdoor recreation. Shortages in Vocational Support Officers (VSOs) also escalated, and work places were progressively shut. Duty staff could not always be found for education, which was also often closed.
Albany now has a total capacity of 510, with a standard capacity of 489. Of the 244 cells dedicated to standard capacity, one is the women’s cell which can hold three women (and is rarely fully used), and seven are double cells in the Multi-Purpose Unit (MPU) which should never be used as share cells. And with nine prisoners with not-to-share alerts, the effective standard male capacity was actually only 470. For the previous 12 months, the Albany population had generally been in the 450-470 range with peaks up to 485 on Monday nights after transferees arrived by coach from the Perth metropolitan region, and before others were sent back to Perth the following day.
On 1 February, the day prior to commencement of our 2018 inspection, there were 115 remandees in a population of 451, or 25.5 per cent, up from only 19 remandees from 299 prisoners (6.4%) in 2015. Few of these remandees were locals, most had been displaced from Perth, in many cases despite having families in Perth. Some came from as far away as Kununurra, and other remote regions of WA. Sixty-one of these remandees were foreign nationals and included 39 Vietnamese, eight from China, and six from Malaysia.
Albany held 91 foreign nationals at the time of the 2018 inspection, only nine of whom came from English speaking nations. Many of these foreign nationals were accused or convicted of drug importation. Most had poor English language skills and had no family in Australia. One hundred and eighty-eight prisoners, or 41.7 per cent were of Aboriginal, and/or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) background. Despite being a maximum-security prison, only 17.1 per cent of prisoners were rated at maximum-security classification, up from 12 per cent in 2015. Another 80 per cent were medium-security, and 2.9 per cent were minimum-security.
In 2015 the Superintendent had only been in the role for about a year. His early days had been marked by having to implement an unpopular overtime cap, but he appeared to manage effectively, eventually winning respect from staff. He had been absent for much of the two years before the 2018 inspection and for most of that period the role was undertaken by the Assistant Superintendent Operations (ASO).
In the 2015 inspection, we were concerned at the instability in senior management as most positions were covered only through acting arrangements. We were especially concerned that neither of the two Principal Officer positions was filled substantively. We also believed that the lack of an Assistant Superintendent Offender Services (ASOS) position at Albany meant that prisoner rehabilitation, services and welfare had a lower priority than prison operations and recommended such a position be established. We expressed concern about ineffective communication at Albany and recommended that Albany improve communication between staff and management and across different levels of staff.