Reprieve looms for prison

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Broome Prison could be expanded instead of closed as the State Government battles to address chronic staff shortages in regional jails, including Derby.

In August 2012, former corrective services minister Murray Cowper flew in to town to announce the facility would generally be used for temporary remand until shutting down in 2015.

But it has remained open and the Department of Corrective Services this week failed to rule out a new lease of life for the historic jail.

“The department is currently assessing population projections and other drivers before determining the future role of Broome Regional Prison,” DCS spokesman Charles Hayne said.

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“Once the future role and function of the facility is determined, this will inform future staffing needs.”

Kimberley MP Josie Farrer said she had heard from “well-informed sources” the prison superintendent had already met community organisations to explain a “planned expansion”.

She called on Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis to make a public announcement on the matter. Mr Francis declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the DCS said it was recruiting prison staff in an attempt to fill dozens of vacant positions in the Kimberley.

As of September, the West Kimberley Regional Prison was 18 positions short — despite being only two inmates shy of its 168-person capacity.

Mr Francis told State Parliament that 137 prison officers were required when the Derby-based facility was full, but only 119 were employed there at the time.

WA Prison Officers Union secretary John Welch said a lack of staff and high prisoner numbers were taking a toll on DCS employees.

“Every day, existing staff are being put under pressure to backfill the shortages, which has become a burden on them,” he said.

“There are problems at Broome with a rising prison population, extra pressure on the staff and a lack of clarity from the department as to what they want to do with the facility.”

Ms Farrer said cramped jails were dangerous and did nothing to change prisoner behaviour for the better.

“Offenders held in overcrowded and understaffed prisons are more likely to reoffend when they do eventually leave prison,” she said.

The DCS said recruitment was under way for a range of positions at WKRP, including for vocational support officers and medical staff.

Mr Francis said Broome Prison now functions as a short-term/transit facility, housing remand and minimum security male prisoners as well as females on short-term sentences.

He said the prison had a total capacity of 117 inmates and the number was 56 on September 9.

“The future role and function of the facility is currently being determined and this will inform any future renovations, refurbishments, upgrades and budget implications,” Mr Francis said in his parliamentary reply to Ms Farrer.

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