At some point almost every prisoner is released back into the community. A well-functioning corrections system prepares prisoners for their release and helps reduce the likelihood they will reoffend. This is balanced against managing the risk of escape and other potential management problems. For some people in prison this means strict supervision under maximum security conditions. For others it means limited or low supervision, increased autonomy and, as far as is possible, an environment which is close to what they will return to on release.
Prisons are rated as maximum, medium or minimum security. Some prisoners at minimum security prisons are able to undertake activities outside the prison under section 95 of the Prisons Act, provided they are assessed to be a suitably low risk. There are also five ‘work camps’ for highly selected and trusted minimum security male prisoners. Section 95 activities and work camp placements are designed to assist prisoner rehabilitation, provide community reparation, and to provide an incentive for good prison behaviour. In November 2014, over 1,000 prisoners are located in minimum security prisons or work camps, and a significant number of these prisoners are undertaking work in the community.
The Department and its Court Custody and Custodial Services contractors (currently Serco) are also responsible for moving a large number of ‘persons in custody’ each day for the purposes of court appearances, medical appointments, work release programs and other activities. These movements create both operational risks and logistical challenges.
Transfers may also occur to manage the prisoner population. An important factor in successful reintegration is for people in custody to maintain contact with people outside prison, and people may be moved closer to their home or family to facilitate this contact. Some prisoners are also moved to access services such as treatment programs which may not be available where they are located. This results in people being moved between facilities during their time in custody.
On an average day, there are at least 265 offenders moving throughout the state. This equates to moving approximately five per cent of the daily prisoner population each day. Consequently the physical security experienced by an offender during their time in custody is not static; a person is not merely received into custody at one facility to remain in situ until release.
If the number of number of people moving outside a custodial environment is added to the number of people in minimum security conditions, then each day, more than a quarter of people in custody are in circumstances where the opportunity for escape is elevated. Yet, despite more this, only 70 people have actually escaped since 2008.