Report reveals Serco incompetence led to prisoner escape

Tuesday 11 Feb 2014

The WA Prison Officers’ Union has called for private contractor Serco to be stripped of its prisoner transport contract, after the Corrective Services Commissioner admitted it was responsible for the escape of two prisoners in Geraldton.

Commissioner McMahon said that routine checking of equipment, which was an essential part of Serco’s contract, was not done properly.

WAPOU Secretary John Welch said it was beyond belief that the van’s CCTV equipment was on, but failed to record the escape.

“After the death of Aboriginal elder Mr Ward in 2008, all vans were fitted with high quality CCTV equipment and we were assured that meant all prisoners would be constantly monitored.

“However, this escape shows that is clearly not the case and questions about why remain unanswered.”

Mr Welch said the government now needed to release the full report into the incident, after the Commissioner refused to do so.

“I can see no reason why the full report can’t be released and the public has the right to know what lead to such a serious incident,” he said.

“If there are security issues, they should have been dealt with since the escape and new policies and procedures put in place.”

Mr Welch said the revelation that there was a structural problem with the van’s internal locking system was also cause for concern, but he did not accept that was the main reason for the escape.

“These prisoners were able to escape because the outer door of the van was left open, apparently for airflow, which doesn’t make any sense, given all vans are fitted with air conditioners.

“There are clearly some major issues with Serco’s policies and procedures and despite past assurances about private operators, serious mistakes are still occurring.”

Mr Welch said the string of incidents involving Serco and its predecessors was a clear indicator that privatisation in the prison sector had failed.

“The problem with privatisation is that companies like Serco have to make a profit. We believe this means less money for services, which translates into lack of maintenance, understaffing and poor training,” he said.

“We believe that there are many benefits to bringing prisoner transport back in house, including greater transparency and accountability as well as efficiency due to having more highly trained staff.”

Mr Welch said if the government wasn’t prepared to cancel Serco’s contract, it should at least set up a public inquiry into the company’s practices.