Strong leadership with good vision, despite limited formal plans

Karnet has strong leadership and generally runs well. As an integral part of Western Australia’s prison system, Karnet provides food that is used across the entire custodial estate. Yet, Karnet did not have an up-to-date farm plan or prison business plan. The prison does, however, have a broad set of principles and clear vision about how the prison runs. While this did not translate into a business plan, the vision was appropriate for a minimum-security prison farm which operates well.

A need for safety, stability and continuity

The prison had managed COVID-19 commendably, particularly during the Code Amber alert. The pandemic restrictions heavily impacted operations and were unpopular with many staff and prisoners. Senior positions needed to be filled substantively to promote stability and continuity. There was also a need for more Aboriginal staff, Human Resources staff, and an Industries Manager for Karnet to reach its potential.

The farm continues to operate well but could do so much more

Although the farm continued to excel, there were still opportunities for the prison to improve and broaden production variety. The dairy could expand, the abattoir is over 30 years old and needs replacement, and a replacement program for the agricultural machinery should also be developed. These opportunities have the potential to better provide and cater for the prison estate’s growth and needs in the future while increasing prisoner employment, training and skills.

Karnet has some good environmental sustainability initiatives but could do more, such as recycling waste from the kitchen and exploring alternative power sources.

Overall, life in Karnet is positive

Overall life for a prisoner at Karnet was good. The opportunity to have single cells, a more open regime, and the ability to regularly get out in the open spaces and fresh air was appreciated by the prisoners.

However, COVID-19 lockdowns heightened prisoners anxiety levels through loss of routine, social isolation and halting reintegration activities such as home leave. Despite an increase in the need for emotional and psychological support, we heard that prisoners may not ask for help as they feared that they may be transferred to a prison where more help was available. While increased counselling services may help with the issue, much needed training for the peer support prisoners would also help.

Pre-inspection surveys reflected that not all prisoners at Karnet felt safe. Further talks with prisoners during the inspection revealed that some prisoners were experiencing subtle psychological bullying. They said they were reluctant to report it for fear of reprisal and while prisoners have access to several methods to make a complaint, some also expressed a lack of trust in the confidential mail system.

Recreation at Karnet was operating well, however, COVID-19 lockdowns during the Code Amber restrictions meant that recreation and social visits were limited. Although, e-visits went some way to providing an alternative method of contacting family and friends.

Living conditions

In general, the accommodation units and other buildings were clean and appeared structurally sound. However, maintenance work was needed to some of the accommodation units with the oldest accommodation units (Units 1 and 2), in need of refurbishment or rebuild.

Food and clothing were generally good, but some prisoners had complained about the quality and quantity of the food. After looking more closely into this, we found that these complaints were generated from the prison having to change to serving food in individual portion-controlled servings during COVID-19. For many this restricted the choices and variety they had been used to prior to restrictions.

Health and support

Health services were operating well although the limited number of daily escorts available had impacted many external medical appointments. Dental services were almost non-existent at Karnet, despite the prison making several attempts to provide a regular service. Once again, the restricted availability of daily escorts was a big factor in this.

Following a recommendation in our last report, the allocation to Karnet of Psychological Health Services (PHS) hours were increased to three days per week. The allocation was a positive outcome. However, attendance by a counsellor had been inconsistent. This was due to the position being vacant and then backfilled through a shared arrangement with another prison. Due to resource shortages, PHS had not conducted group counselling work in the 12 months leading up to the inspection. This meant prisoners had not been able to access group support, as an alternative to one-on-one counselling.

In general, prisoners with higher mental health needs were not transferred to Karnet as the allocated psychiatrist only attended monthly. Mental health supports for Aboriginal prisoners were also inadequate with no allocated Aboriginal Visitors Scheme workers and no Aboriginal health worker.

Page last updated: September 27, 2023
151: Inspection of Karnet Prison Farm