SERCO and the Department of Corrective Services must build on the excellent foundations laid at Acacia Prison, says Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan in a new report.
His praise for the privately-run prison came with a list of 21 recommendations, including the need to provide more support for prisoners struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and to significantly increase psychiatric services.
Mundaring Police officer-in-charge Jeff Taylor told the Gazette that police responded to calls from the prison every week to investigate allegations of attempted drug smuggling.
“This takes up a considerable amount of police time and we don’t know if what we see is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“Any prison visitor found with illicit drugs will be charged with attempt to supply.”
Professor Morgan acknowledged the pressure on family and friends to traffic products into the prison in the inspection report. “It would be naive to believe that prisons are drug-free environments, including Acacia,” he said.
“In fact, an overwhelming number of Acacia prisoners in the pre-inspection survey openly commented that there is too much drug activity happening at the prison and they felt unsafe and afraid of catching a blood-borne virus from a contaminated needle.”
He commended Serco on the introduction of support and treatment plans for prisoners found guilty of testing positive to illicit substances twice or more within a 12-month period.
However, only eight of 16 plans in the first month were completed and four prisoners opted not to participate.
While Serco has a number of violence and addiction rehabilitation programs in place, the report revealed an appeal to fund a therapeutic community failed.
“The department rejected Serco’s proposal to introduce a therapeutic community at Acacia because the department did not want Serco to commit to too many projects and lose focus on developing rehabilitation opportunities within the young adults community,” the report said.
It also reported that the prison health centre employed one specialist to manage addiction services and due to the high demand, the role mainly involved the dispensing of methadone funded by the Department.
It said the limitation of the methadone program to 80 prisoners placed “a major risk of prisoners using or seeking drugs” and there was a long waiting list.
“Sadly, prisoners who have been on the waiting list for methadone expressly tell us they are turning to illicit drugs to treat their addiction,” the report said.
Acacia operates a visitors’ protocol that includes pat down and strip searches, drug detention dogs and staff observation.
On a family day, up to 1650 visitors pass through the gatehouse.
“We have a strong education program for both prisoners and visitors clearly outlining the consequences of attempting to enter the prison with contraband, which is communicated through posters in visitors’ areas, looped television, on hold messages and directly to visitors on arrival,” a spokesman for Serco said.
“Where drugs or other contraband are detected, police are immediately informed and charges laid.
“The prison will impose restrictions and ultimately ban visitors attempting to smuggle contraband.”
PRAISE FOR EXPANSION PROJECT
An expansion project to make Acacia the largest prison in Australia began in 2012 to accommodate another 387 prisoners and employ more staff.
The transfer completed in March last year was described in the report as “well-managed in the face of serious risks”.
“This (transfer) was a very high risk exercise and Serco and the Department (especially Serco, who carried both the daily and reputational risk) are to be commended,” Inspector Morgan said.
A Serco spokesman said the project required the management of more than 700 prison admissions due to release or transfer to other jails.
The population of the all-male prison in Wooroloo has continued to grow and currently detains more than 1475 men.
Professor Morgan recognised innovation in action at Acacia and concluded the prison was well poised for its next era.
“To Serco staff and management, it has been a difficult journey at times in the past three years: well done, be proud, and keep up the good work,” he said.
The Inspector endorsed a decision to extend Serco’s contract to manage the medium-security prison until 2021.
Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis said contract renewal of the State-owned prison was good news for taxpayers, with an estimated saving of $55 million over the five years.
Serco chief executive Mark Irwin said the contract represented WA’s best value prison per prisoner.
“Through this excellent performance, we have delivered tens of millions of dollars of savings to Government over the past five years,” he said.
Mr Irwin said savings realised through Serco’s input during the build program had resulted in an intelligently designed facility.
“I was particularly pleased the Inspector has recognised this by noting the success of the different cohorts we have within the prison, which operate as ‘communities’, targeting programs to reduce reoffending behaviour while maintaining security and safety, Mr Irwin said.
The medium-security prison on the fringe of the eastern suburbs employs more than 430 people and is one of two privately-managed prisons by Serco.