Prison slips on stretched staff levels

There has been "some slippage" in the running of Acacia Prison, with problems at the jail made worse by staff shortages caused by inadequate provisions in the Serco-held prisoner transport contract, according to the independent prisons watchdog.

The Serco-run prison, which was the scene of an escape last month, will soon become Australia's biggest prison after its inmate capacity is increased from 1000 to 1387.

In a report tabled in State Parliament yesterday, Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan said the prison continued to meet most of its contractual requirements and was "generally performing to a good standard" in most areas.

Professor Morgan also found that custodial staff were regularly deployed off-site for "hospital sits" - a duty covered by the Serco- held court security and custodial services contract - and as a result recreation at the prison was frequently cancelled and staffing in the detention unit was often too low.

Another key finding of the report was that staff appeared preoccupied with the prison's expansion, which led to a reduced focus on the "here and now".

Shadow corrective services minister Paul Papalia called for a separate independent inquiry into Serco's Corrective Services contracts.

"They are stealing the resources from one contract to meet the obligations under another contract and failing to deliver on both of them," Mr Papalia said. "I am gravely concerned about the ability of that prison to accommodate the further 400 unless there is a significant increase in resources."

Serco Australia managing director Paul Mahoney said many of the report's recommendations had been implemented.

"The inspector highlights key areas of good performance and, rightly, areas where we need to improve," Mr Mahoney said.

"We have already implemented many of the recommendations and will strive to lift our levels back to the previous highs."

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis said he was confident Serco would respond appropriately to the report's findings.

Mr Francis said a decision on the renewal of Serco's contract, which expires in mid-2016, would be made at an appropriate time.

The West Australian

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