Prison overcrowding concerns union

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Albany Regional Prison is operating at seventy percent above capacity.
Camera IconAlbany Regional Prison is operating at seventy percent above capacity. Credit: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Chronic overcrowding at Albany Regional Prison has led to increased stress and mental health issues among staff as the prison reaches almost double its capacity, the WA Prison Officers Union claims.

The concerns by the union regarding the state of Albany’s maximum-security prison come as a report by the Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan found Albany was at 171 per cent design capacity.

The report revealed the WA prison system was operating at 148 per cent of its intended capacity with Albany the third most overcrowded prison in the State behind Bandyup and Casuarina, both at 190 per cent.

WA Prison Officers Union secretary John Welch said the situation had since become worse at Albany, which was now operating at 183 per cent with 204 more prisoners above design capacity. The report, released on Monday, found Albany had the most displaced prisoners in the State and as a result this had led to conflict between outlaw motorcycle gangs and feuding family members.

Mr Welch said prison officers were now placed at greater risk because of the issues which came with overcrowding and “double- bunking” prisoners.

“It is the case in Albany like it is in many prisons that the enormous pressure overcrowding brings and the stresses that has on individual staff impact often on the mental health of staff,” he said.

“It is clearly a problem when you are dealing with the prison which is almost at double the size it was meant to be.

“That means cramming prisoners in to every possible space and it means the stress and pressure on prison officers gets greater by the day.”

Mr Welch said the amount of displaced prisoners was close to 200 and the mix of prisoners and associated conflict had led to another layer of stress for staff.

“When you’re then trying to deal with things like conflict between outlaw motorcycle gang affiliates and feuding family members, this leads to impact in terms of the ability of the prison to be able to provide the necessary services, recreation and functions to allow the prison to function well,” he said.

“So we are very concerned that a prison is running with such an enormously high overcrowding levels, which has all the problems of dispersal of prisoners being brought from the metropolitan area and all the internal problems that are created that has an enormous impact on staff.

“It is a stressful work environment anyway being a prison officer — you don’t need more stress and that’s what happens when you chronically overcrowd.”

The Department of Corrective Services yesterday said the prison’s total capacity was 510 compared to the design capacity of 244 and there were 459 offenders in custody as of Monday.

Corrective Services Commissioner James McMahon said the department welcomed the scrutiny.

“We do not always agree with the findings of the inspector,” he said.

“We are not going to put air-conditioners in every room and we do double bunk ... we provide value for money in security and rehabilitation.”

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