Monday, March 21, 2005

Overhaul Department of Justice: Reform Group

PRGWA : WA Department of Justice - a political machine

WA: The Prison Reform Group of WA is calling for a complete overhaul of the Department of Justice following recent events which have compromised its integrity, placing prison staff, prisoners, their families and the community, at risk. We call for the Minister to publicly apologise for last week's debacle which has seen the public badly let down by the Department of Justice yet again.

For the past decade members and supporters of the Prison Reform Group have watched as Cheryl Edwardes, Peter Foss, Jim McGinty, Michelle Roberts and now Joe D'Orazio have driven the department as a political machine, kept alive by vast injections of funds, forming a tightly closed culture which has shown a total lack of public accountability.

The very serious security breach which allowed a prisoner to access the Department's database occurred late last year and the public is only now, 3-4 months after the fact, hearing about it and only then because the information was leaked to the media.

Prisons should be places of safety for prisoners and prison staff and yet breaches of security occur on a regular basis. This is not just about access to a data base. This is about a sinister culture within the prison system which enables prison officers and prisoners to trade information on a daily basis.

What was once a prisoner file held by an officer within a specific prison unit, is now a massive data base which holds information such as the name, telephone number and address of anyone who enters a prison, be it prisoner, family visitor, official visitor, staff member.

This is valuable information for use in blackmail, coercion, standover tactics and the like. The current combination of the bad old culture and the new technology is potentially disastrous. This database fiasco can be likened to the headlights on a runaway machine that has already injured many people and left others at risk of injury.

It is time for change

It is time to rebuild the machine that is the Department of Justice. DOJ is a machine that is too bulky to work efficiently and effectively, too badly damaged for repair, has seen several inexperienced people jump in and out of the driver's seat and has been navigated by political masters who have been hell bent on using it for political gain.

PRGWA calls upon all political parties to reassemble this machine into several workable parts. For example; Courts could stand alone or come under the umbrella of Police, Juvenile Justice should return to the Department of Community Development and regain its welfare oriented base and Prisons and Community Based Corrections should stand together under the umbrella of a Department of Corrections. These are workable machines.

PRGWA also calls for the establishment of a Justice Commission that would bring responsibility and accountability between the Minister for Justice and his politicised agency. A Justice Commission could provide support for the Director General and the new Justice Minister by providing expertise and information that is not distorted for political gain. It could also ensure that the Department is open to the Corruption & Crime Commission, the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services, the Ombudman's Office and the Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission in a way that does not currently occur.

A Justice Commission is the best way forward for the State. Politicians have had their joy ride in the 'tough but not very effective on crime' machine and they now need to take advice from a board of directors with specific criminological, legal and penal knowledge, experience and leadership in the community in order to rebuild integrity and regain public confidence. The DOJ machine is rusted out, obsolete and is obviously a danger to those working and living in its coalface - the prison - as well as being a danger to the community because of its ineffectiveness.

By Dorothy Goulding posted 21 March 05

Dot Goulding Prison Reform Group WA - Phone: 08 94978061


Crisis Brewing in State Jails
WA: Figures released today reveal one of the states worst kept secrets 'the prisons are filling fast and will soon be overflowing. The ABS figures released today showed that Western Australia's imprisonment rate continued to outstrip every other state in Australia.