The West

Task force to  crack down on jail crime
Prison job: Detectives from the organised crime squad. Picture: WA Police

Evidence that WA's prisons are awash with drugs has led to the formation of a permanent task force dedicated to fighting organised crime and corruption in the State's jails.

The task force will be jointly staffed by detectives from the organised crime squad and the Department of Corrective Services integrity unit, with special protocols to enable more information sharing and co-operation between the agencies.

The team will expand on the work already done by a 12-month police investigation into the prison system that led to the arrests of 73 people, including three prison staff.

Operation Ulysses found drug abuse was rife in jails and prison staff had been directly involved in supplying drugs and other contraband to inmates.

State crime commander Scott Higgins said the results of the investigation justified establishing a permanent team that would have significantly enhanced investigative powers because of the direct involvement of senior prison personnel.

"There is a pretty strong community expectation that when you go to prison you do not have access to drugs," he said.

"It is our aim through our partnership with Corrective Services to reduce that flow of drugs and the opportunities for serious and organised crime to thrive behind bars."

Stopping organised crime gangs such as bikies from infiltrating the ranks of prison officers would also be one of the task force's roles.

"Experience from around the world shows us it does happen, so we must monitor it and be vigilant for it," Cdr Higgins said.

Operation Ulysses was launched after Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis went to police with concerns about the high rate of drug abuse in jails.

"There are a small percentage of people within prisons who have either turned a blind eye or been an active part of what is essentially an illegal activity," he said. "I am a realist and I realise that you won't be able to win the war entirely but we still have to do everything we can . . . and I am grateful to the Police Commissioner for his help."

Since becoming minister, Mr Francis has appointed a new leadership team in the department and overseen rebuilding the integrity unit.

Legislation is before Parliament to introduce "loss of confidence" procedures for prison officers similar to those that allow the police commissioner to sack an officer suspected of serious misconduct.

The West Australian

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