We found that Acacia in 2018 was still operating well, despite a significant increase in its prisoner population over the preceding three years. Undoubtedly the biggest issue facing the prison’s management (Serco) was the uncertainty around whether they would still hold the contract to manage the prison after May 2021 when the contract expires.
This was also impacting on the custodial officers, many of whom had taken up opportunities elsewhere due to the uncertainty of Serco’s future at Acacia. This left various operational regularly short staffed. Serco advised us that they intend to facilitate two prison officer training schools in 2019. Whilst this was positive, we wondered whether two schools was sufficient to cover the projected attrition rate and vacancies going forward.
We did find that services for certain prisoner cohorts had declined. In particular, services for the young adults. The expansion of Acacia to accommodate 220 young adults in 2013-14 in Uniform Block was originally aligned with the other Serco-run prison in WA, Wandoo Reintegration Facility for young males. Young adults in Uniform Block at Acacia who were eligible for minimum-security placement could transfer to Wandoo. But in March 2017 Wandoo was repurposed, removed from the private operator and brought back under state government administration. So the young adults at Acacia were left without a specific reintegration pathway and supporting services.
Likewise we found that services for the lifers at Acacia were affected by the crowding across the prison. This meant that men were being placed in the lifers’ unit (November Block) because of accommodation pressures and not because they were lifers. This had a destabilising effect on the lifers who had been in the unit for a long time, and who still had a long time to serve.