Double-bunking not the answer to prison over-crowding crisis

Saturday 16 Apr 2011

Over crowding in WA’s prisons is chronic and has become the norm rather than the exception, creating a workplace where Prison Officers are increasingly put at risk, the WA Prison Officers Union said today.

“It is clear that WA prisons have reached breaking point when 13 of 14 prisons in the state are overcrowded,” said WAPOU Acting Secretary John Walker.

“Roebourne is holding 177 inmates today in a prison designed for 116; that is 61 over the limit, or one third the entire prison population.

Across the state WA’s prisons have the capacity to hold 3450 inmates - but are currently holding 4575, or 1125 inmates too many.

“The government’s solution to the overcrowding crisis thus far has been to

double-bunk inmates and overcrowd facilities but this is not the answer.

Double-bunking creates acute problems and makes the working conditions of Prison Officers even more risky and dangerous.

“Some of the problems cause by double-bunking include: an escalation in both the tension and temperature inside prisons, an increased likelihood of assaults, self-harms, suicides, violence, and sexual assaults.

“Double-bunking prisoners requires the placement of 'compatible' prisoners together – such as those at the new units at Hakea prison, unveiled on 11 April; which are intended to house 128 prisoners.

“I would suggest that is unrealistic to correctly assess and match 128 compatible prisoners without causing conflict amongst them, especially given that some the new Hakea cells force the prisoners to shower in front of each other.

“Just last week human rights lawyer Greg Barns, director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance slammed the government over the situation at Roebourne prison, because of the ‘dehumanising effects of overcrowding and inadequate climate control’ at the facility.

“The challenge for the WA Government is to match its tough law and order policy with increased investment in prisons and delivery of appropriate new facilities because the state’s prison population is growing at an alarming rate.

For more information visit the Respect the Risk website

For interviews contact: Natasha Webb, 0410 729 594