Roebourne Regional Prison has always been a source of concern to the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services. This is demonstrated by the fact that whilst the Office usually reports on prisons once every three years (the minimum legislative requirement), it has been considered necessary to inspect Roebourne, on average, once every two years (2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010).
Previous inspection reports identified numerous problems. They included fragile staffing arrangements, poor prison infrastructure, and the dehumanising effects of overcrowding and inadequate climate control.
Housing availability and the high cost of living previously caused problems in terms of ensuring a permanent custodial workforce at Roebourne, and there was instability in management. The custodial infrastructure was found to be in poor condition and seriously overcrowded. Most cells lacked air-conditioning and climate control remediation was completely inadequate. Women were marginalised, although efforts had been made to establish a women’s precinct. Services such as offender programs, support staff, work and training opportunities were also lacking.
Nevertheless, the Millstream Work Camp, the first in WA continued to provide a positive opportunity for minimum security prisoners and to make an excellent contribution to the national park. An abandoned communications station known as DECCA had also been established as an industrial training site for minimum security prisoners but had faltered for inadequate investment. However, it had been revitalised in the lead up to the present inspection.
Roebourne is a Pilbara Aboriginal prison in the sense that more than 90 per cent of its prisoners are Aboriginal and the vast majority come from the Pilbara. The goal, as stated in Departmental policy documents, should be to keep people ‘in country’ as far as possible and to address their specific cultural, custodial, health, rehabilitation and re-entry needs. However, supply and demand are already seriously out of alignment. Around one third of prisoners from the Pilbara are currently imprisoned out of country and predicted demographic changes and rapid economic development mean that their numbers are destined to increase.