Work camps have been a feature of the Western Australian prison system since 1998. They give prisoners a staged transition from custody to freedom and provide reparation through community work projects. They have enhanced rehabilitation through skills training and socialisation, and the overall effect has been to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
Before 2011, Western Australian work camps were low budget and small scale, often re-purposing existing infrastructure. Low-key work camps operated at ten regional and remote sites over a twelve year period. Community fears around ‘criminals in our midst ’quickly receded, and acceptance of the project grew, with regional towns vying to host the camps.
A 2008 evaluation by the Department of Corrective Services (‘the Department’) concluded that work camps were making positive contributions. Consequently successful business cases for purpose-built work camp infrastructure resulted in an expansion project, delivering four large new camps between 2011 and 2014, each with robust, high-quality accommodation and well equipped training facilities. The high costs of construction were to be off-set by extended infrastructure life, low maintenance costs, and the increased benefit to the community that would come from larger workforces at the camps.
Access to work camps has been limited to prisoners presenting low risk to the community Only minimum security prisoners have been permitted to apply for the additional status of ‘work camp readiness’. A Departmental evaluation of the security classification tool in 2008 lead to changes that have been shown to have reduced the opportunity for some prisoner cohorts to progress to minimum security, and may have reduced the overall number of work camp eligible prisoners.