Overcrowding and double bunking are increasing tensions and leading to more assaults among prisoners at the Bunbury Regional Prison, WA’s independent jails watchdog warned today.
Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan has also reported a high level of workers’ compensation claims by employees at the regional prison, saying overcrowding is causing staff to be generally less positive about their jobs and increasingly sceptical of their capacity to make a difference for prisoners.
In a report released today after an announced inspection in July last year, Professor Morgan said the Bunbury prison had an occupancy rate of about 145 per cent when compared to its original design capacity, which had been achieved primarily by adding extra beds to small cells.
“Quite apart from the issue of physically cramped conditions, it is important to understand the ‘knock on’ effects of overcrowding throughout any prison,” Professor Morgan said.
“Prisons are not static warehouses, but dynamic living environments where good relationships, positive activities and opportunities for prisoners to earn incentives are essential.
“Unfortunately, we found evidence of increasing tension amongst prisoners, including more assaults by prisoners on fellow prisoners, and a decline in the pro-social relationships between prisoners and staff.”
But Professor Morgan said the Bunbury jail had been one of the State’s better performing prisons over the past decade and continued to display positive aspects in its operations.
Professor Morgan noted the opportunities for prisoners to engage in education, employment and rehabilitation programs at the regional prison. He also commended the opening of a pre-release unit at the jail in 2008, but said the program was yet to reach its full potential.
“In summary, it is a tribute to Bunbury staff and management that they have managed around the challenges they have faced with a pragmatic, ‘can do’ attitude,” Professor Morgan said.
“However, there are risks if the areas of concern identified in this report are not addressed.”
The Department of Corrective Services acknowledged Professor Morgan’s concerns about an increase in the prison muster at Bunbury.
Last week, the jail had a population of 324 prisoners. This is below its operational capacity of 377, but exceeds its design capacity of 223. The department recognised the muster had been accommodated by the increased use of double bunking.
“It is no secret the prison population has spiked in recent years,” Bunbury Regional Prison superintendent Andy Smith said.
“Bunbury Regional Prison has responded well to these challenges, having maintained employment and education and provided a well-functioning new pre-release unit.
“Adding to that, the inspector assessed that more than half the recommendations from his previous inspection in 2008 were addressed to a ‘more than acceptable’ level.”