The prison had benefited from a drop in WA’s prison population which allowed A and B Wings in Unit 1 to close for the time being. While this presented an opportunity to replace or renew that Unit as recommended in our 2018 report, planning for the State’s prison network had not yet concluded, and there were no concrete plans to make improvements to the conditions in Unit 1 or to any of the other facilities located within that building. We remain especially concerned at the lack of an appropriate crisis care and infirmary at Albany.
We found improvements in reception and orientation processes for prisoners, in some aspects of education, work, training, assessments programs and transition management. The health centre was running much more cohesively. E-visits had become a great complement to personal visits and the return of kangaroo and damper much appreciated by some. The food service more generally remained very popular. But there were concerning deficiencies in mental health and counselling staffing, in dental care, in voluntary rehabilitation and in the functioning of peer support. And Units 2,3 and 4 were still crowded, being almost all double-bunked.
But while Albany has some fine education, programs, training and industrial work available, only 45 percent of prisoners were engaged in such meaningful activities. The rest had unit work or were unemployed. Aboriginal prisoners comprised 38 per cent of the Albany population but made up only 14 per cent of prisoners employed in such meaningful activities. While Aboriginals may have had the same opportunities as others, if we want to reduce their overrepresentation then more needs to be done to engage them in prison in work experience and training.
Albany is also blessed by good recreation resources, library and canteen but prisoners were frustrated at the lack of access to the oval and especially to sport which was supposed to run on the weekend, due to chronic staff shortages. Access to education and industries were also too often affected.
Vacancies in custodial ranks, Vocational Support Officers and civilian staff were also driving stress, frustration and low morale for staff. The Department was also reimposing overtime caps and seeking to restrict access to certain staff entitlements. While prison management appeared broadly effective, staff perceptions were sharply less positive than before.
Regional prisons face many challenges that larger metropolitan facilities often do not. Many conversations we have had with regional prison leadership groups result in them lamenting the absence of enough autonomy to engage outside of defined Departmental requirements. We see many possibilities, if superintendents were appropriately empowered, to engage with local agencies or businesses in innovative partnerships for the provision of specific services.