We have always strongly supported and advocated for the original design and operating philosophy at WKRP, and we had been concerned that the philosophy had eroded with increased prisoner crowding. In 2020 we were encouraged by what we were told by the prison leadership about steps being taken to return to that operating philosophy.
The WKRP architectural design and operational philosophy recognised the importance of providing custodial services appropriate for Kimberley Aboriginal prisoners. That began with identifying those prisoners elsewhere in the prison system and bringing them back to serve time ‘in country’. In 2020, a higher proportion of those prisoners were back in the Kimberley, developing their independent living skills and self-determination.
Since 2017, Aboriginal staff numbers had increased from 12 to 16, four of whom were local Aboriginal women. That effort needs sustained local focus and system level resourcing and support.
Custodial staffing levels were adequate, but retention was a problem, with 40 officers on the transfer out list, and fewer than 10 wanting to transfer in. For many officers who transferred to WKRP from other regions, the isolation of living in Derby was challenging.
Women make up a small but very important part of the prison population. At a system level, many women in regional prisons are overlooked for services and marginalised due to their low numbers. The women at WKRP were no different. We found female prisoners had limited opportunities for work, education, recreation and programs.
In September, as the COVID risk diminished, we visited WKRP in person, meeting with the acting Superintendent, her senior management team, custodial officers and prisoners. We were informed about positive changes that had been put in place since April, some of which had been identified in our draft report sent to the Department for comment.
What we observed during our brief visit was encouraging but we will continue to maintain a strong presence in WKRP through our ongoing liaison visits to the prison.