Women prisoners are locked behind razor wire in maximum security jails when they should be housed in much less stringent conditions, reports indicate. WA could solve its problem by building more lower security facilities and slashing the numbers in jail generally by not imprisoning people for relatively minor, non-violent offences, CLA’s Rex Widerstrom says.
Most Bandyup female prisoners in wrong jail
Razor wire, searchlights, biometrics, high security and the enormous cost to the taxpayer of running a maximum security facility – all for nine women. Meanwhile, another 200 suffer the deprivations of life in a maximum security prison when they should be housed in less stringent conditions.
WA State Government has admitted that the majority of women imprisoned behind razor wire at maximum security Bandyup Prison don’t belong there, says Civil Liberties Australia WA spokesperson Rex Widerstrom.
“In its answer to a Parliamentary Question on prison overcrowding, Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman has admitted that, as at 16 November 2011, only nine of the 255 women kept in maximum security actually belong there,” Mr Widerstrom said.
“A further 169 women are medium security and 47 are minimum security, which means they should be housed in an open facility such as Boronia Pre-release Centre, but our WA jails are so full there’s a waiting list.
“Instead, we pay to keep them in the most expensive form of prison in the state, at a cost of $263 a prisoner a day, when we could be saving money keeping them in a lower security facility – if only the government would build one.
“Meanwhile Mr Redman admits that in Bandyup, 10 women are sleeping on mattresses on the floor, attributing this not to overcrowding but to ‘operational reasons’. Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough.
“It’s often said that people are sent to prison as punishment, not to be punished. That must particularly be the case with female prisoners, whose backgrounds often include their being victims themselves.
“If a prisoner has behaved themselves and worked at addressing their issues, their security classification is lowered. In other states that means they’re housed in better facilities with greater privileges. Not so in WA, where a low security female prisoner serving time for a non-violent offence, and who is a model prisoner, is housed behind search lights and razor wire with murderers and other maximum security prisoners simply because Mr Redman’s government has lost control of its Department of Corrective Services,” Mr Widerstrom said.
“That was quite evident last week, when the Department said that despite the assurances of Mr Redman and his predecessor Christian Porter that the expenditure of $655 million would create new prison beds, it would not, because the Department intended to continue to force overcrowding by closing cells as new cells were built.
“The Department clearly doesn’t mind embarrassing successive Ministers by contradicting their assurances and refusing to follow the policy of the government of the day. But while the Ministers may suffer a bruised ego, prisoners in WA are suffering far worse deprivations while the Department acts as though it is answerable to no one.
“Civil Liberties Australia calls upon Mr Redman to make sure that the promises of his predecessor, now the Treasurer, are made good and that taxpayers’ money is used to expand the number of beds, not wasted.
“And when he’s done that, he might look at why his advisors recommend the building of more maximum security cells when the urgent and ongoing need is for lower security (and much less expensive) facilities.
“Or better yet, WA could stop imprisoning thousands of people for relatively minor, non-violent offences and opt for community-based sentencing – a still cheaper option for the long-suffering taxpayer,” Mr Widerstrom said.
For comment: Rex Widerstrom
Released 5 December 2011