Overview of Inspector of Custodial Services Report
‘Full House: The Growth of the Inmate Population in NSW’
“Full House: The Growth of the inmate population in NSW” written by the Inspector of Custodial Services, J. R. Paget tabled in parliament 6th may 2015, brings to light the stark realities of prison overcrowding in NSW. Mr John Paget, former Assistant Commissioner for New South Wales warns of the consequences on inmates and staff of the mismanagement he documented. He said:
“Where the state treats inmates in a way that denies them a modicum of dignity and humanity it should not be surprised if they respond accordingly, with individual acts of non-compliant behaviour escalating into collective disorder, such as riots” (Foreword)
This report outlines the negative implication the growth of the inmate population has had upon issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation and education services, as well as the health and wellbeing of prisoners.
The NSW inmate population has grown to over 11 300 in February 2015, yet NSW prisons are not equipped to deal with numbers this high. Cells designed to hold two people are now home to three, and services within prisons such as educational programs and health and wellbeing services are struggling to deal with the extra numbers of prisoners.
Justice Action believes that the facts presented within this report demonstrate the breakdown of management and oversight on behalf of the NSW prison system. Indeed, Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) have acknowledged the “current correctional centre overcrowding as a risk” (S3.25). Despite CSNSW risk mitigation strategies, the report advises that without significant structural changes, the prevalence of prison riots and strikes will increase.
Lack of media access, rhetoric of stereotypical dangerous individuals and the reality of the all pervading physical and mental sickness have created an environment that worsens damaged sectors of our society.
The facts exposed by the Inspector’s Report demand a structural change for accountability. Media and community access must be provided for prisoner and family voices to be expressed. Most importantly online services in cells are now more urgent than at any other time.
The inspector refers to the changes in 1989 when prisoners had the incentive to earn their early release removed and the prison population expanded dramatically. Giving back that hope and chances at conditional liberty are basic to a positive future.
Since 2012, NSW has experienced a rapid growth in inmate population, with a record high of 11,022 in February 2015 showing an increase of 13% and likely to increase unless significant changes are made. Overcrowding has been defined as ‘a situation where the center is holding a number of inmates exceeding the original capacity it was designed to accommodate’ (Inspector’s Report pg10).
NSW prisons are collectively designed to hold 9,594 (s2.36). With the current prison population at over 11,300, 3 inmates are housed in a cell designed for two. Guidelines are in place to mandate the minimum sizes for cells for single use and for multiple-occupancy being 8.2m2 and 12.7m2 respectively (s2.49-2.51).The problem is when two or three inmates share the same space designed for fewer.
“Privacy and dignity are important to an individual’s sense of wellbeing and with doubling-up in cells there is no privacy. Where there is a real or perceived lack of respect for the inmate privacy and dignity this contributes to undermining their sense of personal worth” (s5.64).
Corrective Services received an exemption from breach of clause 46 of the Public Health Regulations 2012 in which overcrowding is now allowed (s3.31). The Minister for Health gave special dispensation to allow the act of three inmates in two person cells until September 2015. However, the Report highlights floor space must be considered relative to the amount of time spent in cells especially where inmates have 3 hours out-of-cell time in through the day (s2.53, s4.17).
As part of the severe overcrowding of inmates within NSW prisons, prisoners are faced with significantly earlier lock in times, with some documented as early as 2.30pm (s2.31). For inmates, this means their last meal of the day is served at lock in time, leaving up to 15hrs before their next meal. It also restricts inmates’ contact with their children who are unable to make contact after school hours (s2.31).
The growth in the prison population and the consequent disorganisation has lead to a “disparity between classification and available beds” (s4.10) within NSW prisons. The Report notes, “approximately 54.5% of the inmate population is classified as minimum security but only 36% of the beds are minimum security” (s4.10). Minimum security prisoners are therefore placed in higher security facilities which can have a detrimental effect upon their mental health; further inhibiting rehabilitation and increasing chances of recidivism (s5.61, S4.11).
The Report highly recommends in-cell technologies such as computers and phones. This allows family video conferencing as well as self-management tools to occupy inmates and provide a sense of control (S4.63).
Read more in Comparing Zoos and Prisons: Worse Than Animals
‘Out of Cell’ Hours
NSW is the state with the lowest hours out-of-cell for its inmates with overcrowding as a compounding factor (s4.53). From 2011-2014, the average out-of-cell hours has dropped from 11.4 hours to 8.2 hours per day (s4.54). Those on remand are only granted 5.5 hours outside cells, yet 55% of these inmates will not be convicted (s4.56). The Subcommittee on Prevention of Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishments suggests increased confinement and reduced activities is considered ‘ill treatment’ (S4.57).
In 2013-14 the statewide daily average time for inmates to be locked in cells was 16 hours. That is 16 hours with no fresh air, access to programs or any contact from family or friends, for both remand and convicted persons (S4.54-55). Moreover, it makes it difficult for people in cells to attend to their basic individual needs and human rights, such as: accessing the toilet to urinate or excrete, and/or taking a shower.
The report reveals that the lack of beds has led to low-security inmates being held in the same room as violent/high-risk offenders. As a result, assault in prisons has increased by 2% as noted in section 4.64. Furthermore, the report highlights in section 4.68 that the rates of assault, self-harm and death among prisoners is ‘greater now than at any time in recent years.’ This also extends to an increased likelihood of violence between staff and inmates with overcrowding playing an underlining factor.
Access to rehabilitation programs
The Report highlights that prison overcrowding “reduces inmates’ access to facilities and resources that are already limited” (S6.2), such as rehabilitation programs that are vital for a successful rehabilitation.
The Report highlights that prison overcrowding compromises rehabilitation outcomes for prisons, which is a crucial component of the prison system. Failure of inmates to complete pre-release programs mandatory for parole results in increasing waiting lists and delay in rehabilitation, with waiting lists at 300 (s6.28, 6.32). This is a systematic inability to ensure that inmates have the opportunity to be released at the earliest possible time (s6.28). The inspector recommends program accessibility must be improved to reduce the number of inmates exceeding their earliest possible release date.
As the report explicitly states: a significant number of facilities are assessed as “not effectively contributing to business objectives.” (Foreword p.5) Additionally, it further undermines access to education, programs and contact with their families and friends, which are already limited (s6.5).
Educational programs are the key to successfully rehabilitating the offender (S6.1), yet cell overcrowding can prevent inmates from completing educational programs. For example from 2015 the ‘Smart and Skilled’ program will no longer consider inmates disadvantaged forcing them to pay the full course fees. The Report identifies that at present only one third of inmates is able to participate in their chosen course (S6.50), which a high rate of demand that continues to be unmet. Completion rates of education courses at Parklea CC are very low, due to the high proportion of remand inmates who are transferred to another centre or released before they can complete their courses (S6.51).
Current conditions cause inmates to become de-motivated, consequent of the short period of free time out of their cells, hindering them from accomplishing the most basic tasks after work, which includes the attending of educational seminars (S4.62). This has been demonstrated through a significant drop in the completion rate of the aggression and violence programs for example. (S6.34) This is detrimental to rehabilitation. The Report states that educational programs are the key to successfully rehabilitating the offender, and therefore combats recidivism.
Individual development comes from increasing knowledge and obtaining new skills. It is therefore vital to provide offence-focused educational and rehabilitative programs to improve recidivism rates and increase welfare (S6.25).
This is why there should be a much larger focus on utilising computers in cells (s6.55), so that people in prison are given the opportunity to learn and be productive, without having to leave their cells or worry about restrictions placed on them due to time constraints. Installations have been made at Nowra and Cessnock but are not currently being used (s6.58).
In regards to Internet safety, the Report states that this should not be a concern as there are current technologies that carry the capacity to tackle this issue (s6.59). As a result, individuals in prison will be more inclined to successfully complete their courses instead of dropping out. While the prevalence of computers in educational centres has increased over the past ten years, access to these varies due to staff shortages and lockdown times (s6.57).
Justice Health staff increases have not been proportionate to the increase in the custodial population (s5.8). While there have been increases in staff directed to both frontline and support services (s5.9). The ratio of nursing and clinical staff (including doctors) to inmates has decreased. At Parklea CC there were 8.89 health staff to every 100 inmates in 2001, this number dropping to 7.91 health staff per 100 inmates in 2014 (s5.8, 5.10, 5.11).
In addition to the decrease in quantity of custodial health workers, there is also evidence of a major decline in the quality of the services being provided. The Inspector of Custodial Services reported instances where Justice Health & the Forensic Mental Health Network filling correctional health positions with underqualified staff, such as the practice of filling a Clinical Nurse specialist position with a Registered Nurse, on the condition that the employee “train up” to the required skill level (S5.12-14). JH&FMHN has also employed Nurse Practitioners to assume greater responsibility in diagnosing and medicating patients, due to the difficulty of employing General Practitioners (GPs) in regional correctional centres (S5.13). The report also noted the high levels of prescription medication used (S5.34).
Individuals’ health needs not being met (S5.2). The Inspector considers impact of overcrowding on health care a high risk. All inmates questioned in this report believed health care to be inadequate (s5.57).
There is a lack of officers available to transport prisoners to scheduled appointments. The result is that in early 2014 internal appointments were cancelled at a rate of 43% of which greater than half were due to operational restrictions (S5.54-55).
Health specialist appointments 50% cancelled because no prison officers are available to transport prisoners. The Report highlights that the health staffs are not proportionate to the increase of the custodial population, which has led to the lack of treatments of mental health issues and chronic conditions (s5.8). Up to 35% of external appointments and 43% of internal medical appointments were cancelled in 2014 as a result of administration errors as well as by inmates themselves who feared the loss of their bed (s5.54, 5.56).
Employment is very important for inmates’ wellbeing, safety and security because it provides them the basis of employability once they will be release (s6.65). Corrective Services Industries is responsible for providing commercial and service jobs for inmates including packaging and assembly and textile production. These positions enable positive outcomes for inmates through buy-ups as well as allowing them to develop skills, work ethics and discipline, which can be drawn upon post release (s6.62). But in the recent study, employment has been reduced by 10% in the last 3 years (s6.66). This reduction can be attributed to the decline in the number of available jobs, increase prison population, closure of correctional centres and the reallocation of positions to other centres (s6.66).
Family Contact and Prison Activities
Family contact is essential to the wellbeing of inmates and can be compromised by inadequate facilities for visitation and telephones (s.6.24). As the main means of family contact, it is vital the inmates have access to telephones on an equitable basis. The study found that in some areas, there was one telephone shared by 48 inmates, which results in tension among inmates (s6.6). US research has also shown a positive relationship between inmates’ visits and recidivism (S6.18). Visitation facilities in prisons such as Parklea CC are insufficient to allow different groups of inmates to have visits at the same time, disadvantaging certain inmates. The study also found that none of the centres inspected utilised family video conferencing as a means of increasing access to families (s6.24).
Across all centres inspected, it was found that shared amenities created strain among the inmates. Access to space, shade and seating in the yard and communal indoor areas were found to be inadequate and systematically interrupted for prolonged periods due to maintenance and staffing issues (s6.11-14). In outdoor areas there are 60 inmates, only 11 seats. There is only one bubbler in an outdoor area and no separate hand washing facilities (s6.12). Access to ovals in multiple facilities was also systematically interrupted, only accessible once every three weeks or closed for over 18 months (s6.14). Some individuals were also placed in the position of having to choose between attending buy-ups or using the oval (s6.15).
 Public Health Regulations 2012, Clause 46
 Inspector of Custodial Services Report, “Full House: The growth of the inmate population in NSW” (April 2015) p 16, recommendation 31.
 The prison community are reported to have higher levels of infectious diseases, mental health, chronic respiratory and heart conditions, and drug and alcohol problems (see: Inspector of Custodial Services, The Invisibility of correctional officer work, May 2014, and NSW Justice Health, Inmate Health Survey: Key Findings Resport 2009, 2010).