INTRODUCTION We first inspected Broome Regional Prison in 2001. With 80 per cent of the population Aboriginal, the sub-standard services and conditions would not have been acceptable in a metropolitan prison where Aboriginal people were in the minority. Our 2019 inspection found despite some improvements, infrastructure was still unsuitable, and services and supports for prisoners were lacking. In 2022 the Department of Justice (the Department) was actioning its policy of identifying Aboriginal prisoners and, where possible, providing custodial services for them ‘in country’. Most Kimberley prisoners in the system had been brought north.
GOVERNANCE Since 2012 the future of the prison had been in doubt, which hindered effective strategic planning. In 2019 the then Minister announced $1.4 million to begin planning for a new facility. In March 2022, the Department’s preferred site was rejected by the Shire. A new Broome Prison is years away.
Broome had lacked stable leadership for much of the last two decades, but in 2022 management was strong, although not substantive. The prison was running below safe minimum-staffing levels. Staff were dissatisfied with all tiers of management, but that did not necessarily reflect poorly on Broome’s senior management team.
EARLY DAYS The reception centre was a run-down open-plan space. Despite poor working conditions the reception processes were well entrenched, and the centre ran smoothly. Initial health assessments could be delayed due to shortages of custodial staff. There was no formal orientation system in place, and there was no dedicated orientation officer. Although orientation handbooks provided basic information, some prisoners did not (or could not) read the handbooks. They relied on other prisoners or the Independent Visitor to help.
Remand prisoners often require extra supports, provided at other prisons by a Transitional Manager, a Prison Support Officer, and sometimes by the Aboriginal Visitor Scheme staff. Broome had none of those. Even legal support, important for the 48 per cent of remand prisoners, was minimal.
DUTY OF CARE The antiquated design and degraded infrastructure at Broome failed to acknowledge cultural diversity or give Aboriginal prisoners the opportunity to follow traditional rules governing interaction. It was not an Aboriginal appropriate environment. The absence of adequate support services for Aboriginal prisoners was inexcusable and created unacceptable risk. A Kimberley specific staff Aboriginal cultural awareness training package had been developed, but both prisoner and staff surveys suggested gaps in cultural understanding persisted.
Processes to manage at-risk prisoners were good. Prisoner Risk Assessment Group (PRAG) meetings were chaired by the Assistant Superintendent Offender Services and attended by unit managers, the Psychological Health Services counsellor, and a nurse from the health centre. PRAG met as often as was required to ensure safe and appropriate placement and management of prisoners at risk.
MANAGING BEHAVIOUR Opportunities to manage poor behaviour were limited. The prison had no punishment or segregation cells. But results from our prisoner survey to the question whether staff ‘treat prisoners with respect’ had risen from 58 per cent to 68 per cent, well above the state average of 44 per cent. There had only been two incidents of use of force in the two years before this inspection. But it was disappointing to observe few staff proactively engaging with prisoners.
DAILY LIFE Most prisoners responding to our survey did not think their time at Broome was spent in useful activity. They said the lack of programs, education, employment and active recreation were some of the worst things about Broome. Prisoners rated their quality of life at 4.42 out of 10, down from 6.23 in 2019. Prisoners described the Maximum Security Section (MSS) as ‘cramped and depressing’ and ‘the worst of the worst’.
Prison infrastructure suffered during the wet season. We saw mould on the roof of the kitchenette in the earned privilege unit. Rain poured through office ceilings. Water pooled on desks and floors in what had been the education centre. But despite the degraded infrastructure, prisoners living in minimum-security were positive. They appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of their unit compared to conditions in the MSS.
The meals provided at Broome were good. External expert diet analysis, prisoner feedback and direct observation all suggested a healthy, varied diet was available. But cultural food was only available at special events. The prison should provide regular access to food options that are culturally appropriate for its Kimberley Aboriginal population.
HEALTH AND SUPPORT The Broome medical centre was staffed seven days a week during out of cell hours, with two nurses rostered on weekdays and one on weekends. The Nurse Manager had a stable and experienced team. A doctor contracted to Broome Aboriginal Medical Service came to the prison four mornings a week – a significant increase from one morning previously. Despite that, prisoners still waited four to five weeks to see a doctor. Despite infrastructure and staffing limitations, COVID-19 was managed well. As cases spiked across Kimberley communities, effective precautions and infection control measures to contain the virus were put in place.
Prisoners did not have adequate access to on-site mental health, alcohol and other drug services and supports. There had been no AOD specialist staff on site at the prison since 2015, and the designated comorbidity nurse position had been vacant for many years. At the time of the inspection, there were also no voluntary programs such as Alcohol Anonymous. The only consistent on-site specialist mental health service was provided by the long-serving PHS specialist. She was highly experienced and committed but the focus of her role was addressing immediate self-harm risks and not broader mental health care.
REHABILITATION AND REPARATION In 2019, the Department supported our recommendation that Broome provide a full suite of services, including therapeutic programs and education. Despite that, in 2022, Broome had been allocated no program resources, and no education services. In the prisoner survey, respondents made it very clear that lack of programs and education was a concern. Staff agreed.
Most prisoners at Broome were denied a constructive day. At the time of the inspection, Broome had 51 prisoners on site, but just 11 had meaningful jobs at the kitchen, stores, laundry, or maintenance. All 23 prisoners who were not working – 45 per cent of the population – were on low Level 5 gratuities.
For Broome, Centacare Kimberley (CCK) was the lead agency contracted to provide re-entry, temporary accommodation services and transport home. CCK management told us that attracting and retaining staff had been difficult, which had limited their ability to engage with Kimberley prisoners. Also, despite it being a requirement under the contract, CCK had difficulty maintaining contact with prisoners after release.
Broome had lost connection with the community. In 2011, many prisoners at Broome were engaged in community work, with projects to maintain the grounds and gardens around the Broome Courthouse and renovate derelict public housing. That had given prisoners opportunities for rehabilitation, reparation, and real connections back with their community. But in 2022, only two prisoners were approved to work just outside the fence. The days of gardens maintenance at the court precinct were long gone.