Inquest Into WA Prisoner Transport Highlights Need To Reconsider Privatisation

Words By: Jon Davidson

UPDATE: Since the time this article was published, Serco Group have lost the prisoner transport contract.

The inquest into prisoner transport within WA at the Legislative Council has heard that there is a dire need for flexibility in contracts with service providers.

Prof. Neil Morgan told the Committee that over the last six months minimum security prisoners have been handcuffed and manacled under maximum security provisions where not required by stipulations of the contract with Serco.

A number of escapes have occured, particularly within a centre in Derby adjacent to an airfield. It was not made clear if escapes have occured whilst transporting prisoners to or from funerals.

Prof. Morgan also told the inquest that prisoners entrusted with the right to seek external employment outside of jail have not been handcuffed, however those transferred to hospitals with chronic illness are under max sec watch.

“There needs to be consistency”, Hon. Behat said.

Hon Liz Behat heard that Aboriginal prisoners have not been receiving food during transport, with instances of transportation occuring before feeding times in what is “not an isolated incident”. Hon. Behat asked that clarification of specific jails involved be identified.

Furthermore, further issues have been identified within transport of prisoners not arriving at court dates before their commencement.

It was alleged that this is not an uncommon issue within the metropolitan area where transport is run by Serco.

Acacia prison, the largest source of revenue for Serco within their slew of prison contracts in WA, is quickly approaching the end of its contract, and the Department of Corrective Services has to inform the corporation whether or not the contract will continue by the end of this month.

“Value for money is not just about bang for your buck, it’s about quality of service”, Prof. Morgan said.

He also told the inquest that “Skype needs to be explored”.

Further questioned are the capabilities of western Australian prisons to provide video link hearings – it is said that failures in facilitating these have lead to large numbers of people being kept in reigonal custody overnight before appearing in a metropolitan court.

Police officers meet “halfway” with two separate vehicles to trade and move prisoners across the state, sometimes hitting 800km runs.

Meeting points are reportedly agreed upon by WAPOL.

The WA Police Officers Union have told the committee that members believe the privatisation of prisoner transport is not a viable or efficient system.

Late arrivals of prisoners to understaffed police stations have also been identified as as pressing issue.

Union representatives claimed that prisoner manifestos have been incorrect on a number of occassions, including the identities of prisoners.

“It is far from suitable to have prisoners arriving in a van that can not fit into the port” the representative said as part of his submission. The prison cannot be named.

In discussing double handling, it was stated that prisoners are strip searched in a sterile zone by WAPOL staff, and are then pat searched and wanded – potentially up to an additional 3 times on both ends of the trip.

It was relayed that Serco enlisted Swan Taxis to transport a number of prisoners, though this had not occurred recently.

The committee heard of an anonymous prison guard who called 6PR to relay that a prisoner being transported after serious healthcare had stitched wounds re open during transport.

This incident, allegedly, is not isolated.