Last inspection Serco was in a state of uncertainty as to whether it would still hold the contract to manage Acacia after May 2021 when the contract expired. Extensive effort was put into the bidding process and Serco was awarded a new contract for a five-year term with two extension options. With the contract awarded and the transition period over, Serco was settling into the new contract and the adjustments that came with it.
However, during the 2021 inspection, we heard that a new Superintendent would start in December 2021. Three key members of the senior management team had also left the prison or indicated they were about to leave. We felt that we were observing the aftermath of a long period of uncertainty and the results of staff being overloaded with work in preparing for the bid.
The uncertainty leading up to the end of the contract and the transitional changes required after the contract was awarded, had taken their toll. The prison was not performing as well as it had been during past inspections. It was obvious to us that Serco had not kept up with recruitment while preparing the contract bid. This resulted in a recommendation to ensure adequate staffing numbers were achieved for the safe operation of the prison.
One of the most significant changes this inspection, was the restructure of the health centre and how it was staffed and operated. In 2016, we recommended Serco review health services at Acacia and implement measures to improve efficiencies, effectiveness, and staff morale. Serco undertook an independent review and in 2019 there were marked improvements in health services. The alcohol and other drug (AOD) and mental health teams had been bought together and were working well. But this inspection found that the teams had been separated again which appeared to have lowered morale among staff and reduced services once again.
The uncertainty leading up to the contract being awarded, the changes implemented after the contract was won and the instability of senior management, had culminated in a substandard performance to that found previously at Acacia. However, Acacia was working hard to identify the issues and rectify the situation.
Unfortunately, not long after the inspection there was a riot at Acacia which damaged infrastructure including two accommodation units and much of the industries area. This had again slowed down plans to extend employment opportunities for the prisoners and has impacted on the speed of the progress towards better performance overall.