Complex governance and staffing challenges limit the prison’s potential

Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison (EGRP) remained modern, well maintained, and secure, yet it was not fully utilised despite its impressive facilities. With Unit 3 open for isolating newly admitted prisoners to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, and Unit 5 remaining uncommissioned, almost 100 beds were unused. This contrasts with the rising state prison population, which has recently reached record highs. Recruitment and retention challenges for custodial staff persisted, compounded by outdated strategic plans and disparities in incentives for local versus non-local recruits. Limited input from Aboriginal staff and concerns about entrenched workplace culture and grievance resolution processes were also noted. Community relations were improving, supported by efforts to engage external stakeholders and the establishment of the prison’s art gallery, Palya Walkaly-Walkylpa

Staff shortages restricted the daily regime 

There was a commitment to ensuring prisoners received time out of their cells and we observed prisoners attending the oval, education, and essential employment areas. However, staffing shortages resulted in the regular redeployment of Vocational Support Officers (VSO). Despite attempts to manage redeployments and avoid lockdowns, over half of surveyed prisoners reported their time was not spent in useful activities. Additionally, few prisoners were seen in industry workshops, and there were limited structured recreation sessions available.

Management of at-risk prisoners was good, but crisis care was not therapeutic 

The prison demonstrated thorough management of at-risk prisoners through clear processes and multidisciplinary meetings involving key staff. While staff generally considered the services for suicide prevention and at-risk management as acceptable, some believed additional training was necessary. However, the Crisis Care Unit (CCU) remained untherapeutic, lacking cleanliness and meaningful prisoner-staff interaction. Prisoners expressed a preference for placement in a standard living unit during a crisis and often refrained from verbalising their thoughts due to fears of being placed in the CCU.

Women were supported but wanted more time with their children

Overall, female prisoners expressed satisfaction with the infrastructure and opportunities available in Unit 4, which had a robust progression process. However, more attention was needed to support mothers, as the facilities of the mother and child cottage remained underutilised and not fully aligned with their intended purpose. During the inspection, the Female Life Skills Officer position was vacant. However, a recent liaison visit revealed the position had been filled by a dedicated and highly respected individual who was expected to support female prisoners in Unit 4.

Positive staff-prisoner relationships were impacted by a lack of hierarchical progression and delays in prosecutions

The closure of Unit 3 as the earned privileges unit led to limited options for male prisoners, in contrast to the opportunities available for women. Male prisoners expressed dissatisfaction with the limited incentives and opportunities. Most relationships between custodial staff and prisoners were positive, but fewer prisoners said they got on well with unit staff. Despite having a full-time prosecutor, staff perception of the prosecution process had declined due to significant delays in hearing charges, often resulting in their withdrawal. There were concerns this could undermine the deterrence of negative behaviour.

Social visits were well managed, but the e-visits system was problematic

The social visit system operated effectively, with efficient booking management and positive feedback from both prisoners and visitors. However, attempts to facilitate e-visits encountered technical issues, including poor connections and frequent audio or visual problems, compromising the effectiveness of this communication channel. A solution is needed to address these technical challenges to ensure reliable e-visits for prisoners and their families, as well as video-link access for courts and other official visits.

Aboriginal prisoners were disadvantaged and unemployment was high

At EGRP, over 70% of prisoners are Aboriginal, with over 90% of them not engaged in work. More non-Aboriginal workers received the highest level of gratuities. Shortages of employment opportunities within the prison were evident, coupled with a prevalence of low-skilled unit-based work. Nine out of 26 VSO positions were either vacant or temporarily filled by casual workers, leading to frequent redeployment that impacted prisoner-staff relationships.

Primary health services were well catered for, but delays for specialist and dental services were common

The health services at EGRP provide a comprehensive range of care, including primary health services and mental health support. Notably, the prison successfully secured a permanent full-time Mental Health Nurse, a commendable achievement in a competitive job market. Other challenges such as prolonged wait times for specialist appointments and shortages of dental staff, which are beyond the prison’s control, exacerbate mental health issues among prisoners. Therefore, prioritising the filling of positions to address mental health concerns in prisoners is critical.

Treatment assessments impacted the completion of programs

The assessments team at EGRP demonstrated a strong commitment and expertise under the leadership of an experienced Case Management Coordinator. However, staffing shortages and statewide delays in treatment assessments led to backlogs in Individual Management Plans and hindered prisoners’ ability to complete mandatory programs. Program delivery was further impacted by staffing levels, resulting in the cancellation of six programs during 2021 and 2022. Additionally, there was an absence of voluntary programs, which benefit prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration. Addressing the backlog in treatment assessments and improving staffing levels are essential for enhancing the provision of services and supports available to prisoners.

The education centre provided meaningful opportunities

A diverse range of educational opportunities were offered to EGRP prisoners, ranging from basic education to university studies. Despite facing staffing challenges, the team successfully facilitated accredited adult education and vocational training programs tailored to the regional job market. High enrolment numbers demonstrated strong prisoner engagement with education and training initiatives, with 193 distinct students enrolled in adult basic education in the 12 months leading up to November 2022. The presence of an Aboriginal Education Worker was particularly central in engaging Aboriginal prisoners in education and training.

Page last updated: March 28, 2024
152: Inspection of Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison