Wandoo could change lives for the better

Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison (Wandoo) opened its doors to the first residents in July 2018. The prison offers female offenders a unique opportunity to heal from previous trauma and address the root causes of their substance use and offending. Staff and residents spoke highly of the program and said it had the potential to not only change lives, but to save lives too. There were strong prerelease services to help women prepare for their transition back to the community. But there were some gaps in their reintegration too, not least because Aboriginal residents returned to prison at higher rates than non-Aboriginal women. Overall, more prisons should run like Wandoo, it is safe and staff and residents appear dedicated to change and rehabilitation.

Integration of clinical and custodial priorities was a work in progress

Wandoo’s success is dependent on the quality of the working relationship between the Department of Justice (the Department) and Cyrenian House, the contracted service provider. At the time of the inspection these were not well integrated at Wandoo and, to some extent, had different operational priorities. There was tension between maintaining a viable population in a costly prison and keeping to the foundations of the therapeutic program. There had been changes in custodial and Cyrenian House leadership too, and not all custodial staff had received Wandoo specific training. This strained some relationships and risked diluting therapeutic processes. With this change and uncertainty, some staff resisted efforts to align Wandoo with the Mallee Rehabilitation Centre in Casuarina Prison. At the time of writing the Department had just commenced an evaluation of the Alcohol and Drugs program.

Workplace culture and relationships were strained

Relationships between custodial staff, management and Head Office were strained at the time of the inspection and this impacted staff wellbeing and morale across the facility. Some matters, but not all pre-dated current leadership and many staff felt unseen by the Department, even though they were engaged in grievance processes. Many custodial staff did not trust local management to provide a psychologically safe work environment when their own interpersonal relationships were fractured. The Department commenced a cultural review prior to the inspection to look at the long-standing cultural issues affecting Wandoo. This and other initiatives to address staff concerns were welcomed.

Good initiatives but cultural safety needed strengthening

Wandoo was committed to developing the cultural experience of Aboriginal residents and had a variety of initiatives to enhance their connection to history and culture. But more could be done to ensure culturally safety and to engage with those residents who want to make a systemic contribution to Wandoo and Aboriginal rehabilitation. Aboriginal women wanted a forum to explore their experiences of systemic racism and provide cultural guidance to the modified therapeutic community, which they said at times ‘clashed’ with their culture. More Aboriginal staff would provide some of the cultural care that residents could only get from each other as support or cultural services had been interrupted for some time.

A good place to live with room to do even better

Residents highly rated their quality of life at Wandoo. Women were busy and structured their days around the program, work and education. A new dental suit offered women a restorative service, above and beyond what is usually available in prison. The move to self-care catering was also well received. But the canteen and town spends model needed work. Residents were dissatisfied that the available items did not match those listed on the privileges matrix which is a key incentive of the MTC. Health services had several unfilled positions and with inconsistent staffing, the service was stretched.

Wandoo was safe but required some security upgrades

Wandoo felt safe and adopted a mostly trauma-informed approach to managing residents. People, property and places were regularly searched to ensure the environment was drug free. In contrast to most other prisons, there were no recorded incidents of use of force for the 12 months prior to the inspection, and staff and residents had good relationships. Community members held other residents to account for anti-social behaviours by giving therapeutic tasks to work on rather than staff enforcing discipline or punishment. However, although the facility was upgraded when it was commissioned as a women’s prison, there was a need for some infrastructure to be improved.

Page last updated: June 12, 2023
147: Inspection of Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison