Ineffective processes are placing protection prisoners at risk
The processes used to approve and review placements of prisoners into protection are not effective. Prisoners who could be managed within the mainstream population, or those who no longer require protection, are not being screened out or reviewed for transition back into mainstream. This has led to an unsustainable growth in the number of prisoners living in protective custody, requiring the estate to find additional capacity to house them. Ineffective screening processes have also led to a wider range of prisoners being placed into protection, some who may not genuinely require protection. Notably, there has been an increase in OMCG or gang-related protection placements, which has led to greater instances of verbal and physical abuse towards more vulnerable protection prisoners. Effective processes could assist in both reducing the population and creating a safer protection environment.
Protection prisoners are vulnerable to mental ill-health
The restrictive life in protection may be exacerbating the mental ill-health of prisoners. While mental ill-health is common across the prison estate, prisoners have told us that the isolation and boredom they experience in protection significantly impacts their wellbeing and outlook. Our analysis showed there were fewer self-harm and attempted suicide incidents within protection units when compared to mainstream areas. However, protection prisoners are more frequently referred to the At-Risk Management System for observation and more often have a history of self-harming. Protection prisoners continue to feel that the mental health supports they require are not being provided as they require them.
Life in protection is not conducive to rehabilitation
The separation of prisoners for protective custody often comes at the expense of their ability to participate in rehabilitation programs, education, employment, and other activities. These restrictions are often detrimental to their wellbeing, their ability to rehabilitate and, for some, their ability to obtain parole. The Department is generally aware of these restrictions, but lack of data means it has little oversight of the problem and its extent.
Department is reforming protection processes
Throughout the review the Department was establishing a new policy for the assessment and review of protection prisoners. The Department argued these reforms would enable more rigorous assessments of prisoners, which would give it a better understanding of prisoners’ risks and needs. The reforms also introduce a six-monthly review process, undertaken by a multi-disciplinary committee at Acacia, Casuarina, and Hakea prisons.
However, we understand that issues with data collection and extraction will not be addressed under the proposed changes. An opportunity exists for the Department to improve data availability by developing a protection module on the offender database and by digitising paper-based protection-related documents.