Data collection

Using standard query language data extraction, three data sets were obtained from the Department’s database, Total Offender Management Solution (TOMS) for the period between 1 January 2008 and 31 August 2014. These sets included:

  • a list of all escapes by people in custody from Western Australian custodial facilities;
  • a list of all attempted escapes; and
  • a list of all people in the custody of corrective services who were unlawfully released.

Additional data was extracted from TOMS for all escapes which occurred between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2007, and for all people who have ever achieved an escape and continue to remain at large.

Analysis was also conducted on documents provided to the Office by the Department of Corrective Services (the Department) and Serco Australia Pty Limited (Serco).

A series of interviews were conducted with Departmental staff and other key stakeholders.

Site visits were conducted at Roebourne Regional Prison and Acacia Prison. The review team also attended prototype testing at the Emergency Support Group facility when the Department and Serco were establishing a set of minimum standards for physical security of the escort fleet.

Defining an escape

There are problems defining and, therefore, correctly recording the different types of escapes. Presently the Department’s reporting system, TOMS, allows staff to record an escape incident as either an escape or an abscond. Former departmental policies define abscond as occurring when a person departs from:

  • an area adjacent to a maximum or medium security facility (outside worker);
  • a minimum security facility without breaching a physical barrier;
  • a Section 95 program outside the prison when unguarded; or
  • a hospital or another place when unguarded.

However, current departmental policies no longer use this terminology. Instead, they define all unlawful absences as escapes, including those which occur without breaching physical security.

Continuing to allow staff to categorise an escape as an abscond contradicts the Department’s policies. This has resulted in the misclassification of at least one escape since the current policies came into effect in January 2014 (adult custodial) and May 2014 (youth custodial). Similar errors have been highlighted by this Office in a recent review of assaults on staff and these errors will continue until the Department upgrades its offender database to align with its policies.

Despite this, the Department advised that TOMS will not be upgraded to reflect the current policy. This is because the Department is required to report the number of escapes from open prisons and secure prisons separately to the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission. The Office was advised that due to the policy change and TOMS keeping the obsolete terminology, staff will be required to manually assess each escape incident to ensure the correct data is reported through to the Productivity Commission. Given there are so few escapes each year and a manual inspection occurs prior to reporting information through to the Productivity Commission, there appears to be little reason why TOMS is not upgraded to accurately reflect the policy change.

Reporting of attempted escapes

Analysis of the cases of attempted escape (38) indicated a considerable amount of over reporting of attempted escape incidents, especially by youth custodial staff who misclassified escape attempts when detainees were:

  • ascending a roof (8);
  • out of bounds (5); and
  • talking about escape (3).

Roofs in custodial facilities are specifically designed to be at a distance from the external perimeter so the roof cannot be used to aid a person’s escape. Eight roof ascents occurred between 2008 and 2014 where staff classified the incident as an attempted escape. These reports were removed from this review not simply because this Office has recently examined custodial roof ascent incidents at length but also because an attempted escape from a detention centre should only be recorded where a person was attempting to breach the secure perimeter. The secure perimeters of Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Rangeview Remand Centre (now decommissioned) are a considerable distance from the roofs in those facilities, and roof ascents there have rarely been related to a desire to escape.

The reporting was also skewed by staff stating that detainees retrieving a ball from a no-go area, being out of bounds, talking about escape, or breaching their cell but not targeting the facility’s perimeter were also escape attempts. While these incidents are important to document, they should not be recorded as attempted escapes unless there is sufficient evidence to satisfy this criteria. From the incident reports, this did not appear to be the case, and as such, the records were similarly removed from this review.

Finally, the riot which occurred at Banksia Hill in early 2013 was also removed. It was clear from the incident reports that one detainee during the riot was observed throwing a rock at the facility’s perimeter. However, this was not a concerted attempt to breach the secure perimeter.

Page last updated: April 2, 2015

Get Connected