Melaleuca transitioned from private management (under Sodexo) to public operation on 4 April 2020. It retained its role as the primary remand facility for women in Western Australia. We inspected the facility in November 2020, seven months after its transition from private to public. The process had been slow and not without challenges. But we found that the prison was moving forward positively, guided by an experienced Superintendent.
Infrastructure and health services most concerned us during our inspection of Melaleuca. Lack of sufficient and appropriate learning and activity spaces were a leading complaint by prisoners and staff. There was no dedicated education centre, limited employment workshops, limited private interview rooms, and no gym or indoor recreation facility. There were four program rooms that were used by education and program facilitators, and that also doubled as the library, art space, passive recreation rooms and computer centre.
Health services were struggling. Prisoner access to health was hampered by an inefficient appointment system and we were most concerned about services for pregnant women. Dental services were also absent. We have made seven recommendations relating solely to health and mental health services at Melaleuca. The Department has supported all but one of these. We hope to see improvement in health services between now and our next inspection in three years’ time.
The period of transition has also been one of significant cultural change for officers. Those who worked under Sodexo had to get used to working under the public system. And those officers who transferred from other public prisons had to accommodate working alongside people whose approach may be different to theirs. Negotiating this shift has been difficult. But we think the hard work is starting to pay off, and we believe that Melaleuca’s workforce will reconcile these cultural differences and develop into a strong and focussed team.