Jail staff shortage linked to Serco deal

Amanda Banks Legal Affairs Editor

Inadequate provisions in a prison transport contract with Serco are contributing to daily staff shortages at WA’s main maximum security jail for men, the independent prisons watchdog has found.

The comments by Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan, made after an inspection of Casuarina jail in July last year, follow recent debate on the cost of prison transport services and revelations in The West Australian that taxpayers are forking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in double-time wages for prison guards to conduct hospital visits.

In a report tabled in State Parliament today, Professor Morgan said Casuarina was regularly under-staffed.

On one day in the lead up to the inspection there was a shortfall of 24 officers and some employees were working double shifts of 24 hours to cover the situation.

Professor Morgan called for a review of the prison transport contract provisions relating to hospital visits, which he said were contributing to the staff shortages.

The contract provided for a maximum of five hospital transfers a day in the city and two in regional areas.

“Once Serco had reached their daily limit, prison officers were required to conduct the hospital sit,” he said.

“However, the amount of hospital sits provided under the contract was inadequate to service the number of prisoners requiring a stay in hospital. For the six months prior to the inspection, Casuarina redeployed 453 staff from prison-based duties to hospital sits, with approximately 93 per cent of these being paid on overtime.”

Professor Morgan, who said the prison was “doing a decent job with stretched resources”, also highlighted a growing challenge of managing prisoners with gang affiliations.

He noted the “depressing” reality of offenders who had nothing to do all day, saying it cost about $115,000 a year to keep an adult in jail and improvements were needed to get a better return on the investment.

“One of my abiding memories was seeing a group of six to eight Aboriginal men sitting around playing cards early one afternoon,” he said in the report.

“Some were still teenagers and some were much older men. There was nothing else available for them to do and they had generally done little throughout the rest of the day.

“They said they were not gambling but looked sheepish as they said this. It was depressing to witness such mindless boredom and to sense that this was perceived by the young men to be a normalised lifestyle, not something to break away from.

“We need to do better to provide opportunities for improvement especially for young people in prison, so many of whom are Aboriginal.”

Professor Morgan recommended improvements to health and mental health services, increased access to physical activities, improvements to security – including changes to address potential for trafficking of contraband – and continued work to deal with bullying of prisoners and staff by officers.

A Department of Corrective Services spokeswoman said the report had also identified improved relationships at Casuarina, quality training, a reduction in double bunking and good perimeter security.

The department acknowledged the need for additional infrastructure at Casuarina, including extra medical resources, and this would be subject to funding in this year’s Budget.