Report on Conversation with Parklea Prison Governor

The Coordinator of Justice Action had a call with Mr Paul Baker, the Governor of the Parklea Correctional Centre on Friday 24 September regarding the COVID-19 situation at the Centre. That conversation responded to the concerns of the prisoners’ families, namely living standards, modes of communication and the lack of access to technological communications. 

JA mentioned that we have filed a Supreme Court application for orders that cover some of the issues we discussed, as well as the larger issue of releasing prisoners. That legal action was in response to families’ concerns about what has happened to prisoners in Parklea and other prisons.

Here is the information he passed to us. Please let us have any feedback.

The Governor stressed that the intentions of his staff were never to mislead, and that he was open and accountable for any concerns.  He asked JA to consolidate responses from families around key issues or let him know of a particularly distressed family. He said he would respond to them. We are happy to do so or people can make contact directly with the prison.

He said that the Government contract with MTC Broadspectrum to manage Parklea was until 2026 with a possible extension to 2032, so they were investing in the prison. He agreed that one of the benefits of privatisation was to bring in innovative ideas such as SERCO had done with its computer tablets in cells with communication and access to mainstream education and rehabilitation services for prisoners.

Parklea’s Current COVID situation

The Centre currently holds 1000 prisoners, with a capacity of 1350. As it stands on Saturday 25th September, only 7 inmates are COVID positive with 2 in hospital at St Vincent’s Darlinghurst. The others have been cleared as no longer infected. All COVID positive inmates are held in ‘Area 6’ which Mr Baker describes as the most comfortable and modern for the sick patients. No prisoner has died.

Area 6 has 400 prisoners and features 2 person cells with no sharing of bunk beds, meal hatches for minimal contact between inmates and staff and are larger cells than the old part of the prison. There are no dormitories or three person cells in Parklea.

All inmates in area 6 have been using tablet technology in the AVL area to make sure they attend important court appearances, and so that they can speak to their lawyers as required. All COVID positive infected prisoners do now have access to cordless phones allowing for communication with families along with access to lawyers so prisoners are able to continue hearing, appeals, etc. This was a special arrangement created on the September 18 weekend to ensure communication with families continued. Now they have access to trolleys going to the cells, with phones attached to the normal phone system. Initially contact was only made through case planners reporting to family members to keep them aware of the health condition of infected prisoners and if they had tested positive.

Update of communication in Parklea

Before the COVID-19 delta infections, social visits were conducted in the evenings and during the day, where prisoners were allowed to participate in FaceTime calls in the visit centre. The centre will reintroduce this feature in the next week for those who aren’t infected.

Parklea is largely a remand prison with an average of 42 days stay, so all incoming prisoners are subject to a 14-day quarantine arrangement. There is a difficulty providing phone calls during this period or allowing them out of their cells. Case plans are implemented to contact each family regarding an individual prisoner’s situation with the virus. 

During the standard 14-day quarantine period, all inmates have daily access to the usual phone system, although for a limited time.  It is only if they are covid positive that they have been required to use the cordless phones, or now the use of the prison telephone system which can be wheeled to each cell for inmates to make calls.  They will continue to make welfare calls on behalf of inmates where they request it.

Mr Baker said that there is access to Wi-Fi and FaceTime in the visit centre and there is a plan to use SIM enabled tablets in Area 6, but such accessibility is currently unavailable in other areas and that is a contributing factor to the limited rollout of tablets. There will be 20 additional tablets in the next week, but these won’t be in the cells.

From 26th September they will recommence the use of facetime visits in the social visits areas as before for all prisoners at Parklea, and the additional 20 sim enabled tablets will also very shortly be rolled out in area 6 for social visits.  Mr Baker is confident that this should enable every inmate at Parklea to have regular facetime visits with their family, and if it is not he will extend the hours the service is available.

Computer tablets in cells

On the Justice Action public offer to donate tablet computers for all Parklea prisoners in their cells, the Governor said that monetary costs were not the concern. Justice Action reported its research that for $250,000 the prison could be serviced by a special secure server with wireless access points to provide every prisoner with secure phone and internet services in their cells. This structure is applicable to old prisons like Goulburn. Mr Baker said that the ongoing pandemic had preoccupied his highest priorities so that was why that development hadn’t progressed at the same pace as the public prisons. He also mentioned that ports for telephone access exist in the cells, but they are not switched on.

Mr Baker said that his preference was for prisoners to receive rehabilitation and education services from the services Parklea was providing during the 7.5 hours prisoners are out of their cells.

Justice Action pointed out that the Corrective Services NSW Commissioner had agreed to provide access to white-listed websites where mainstream educational, legal, and rehabilitation services would be available to all prisoners in their cells at no cost to the private prison as SERCO currently supplies. Culturally appropriate services would be available during the cell time. He agreed that would be valuable. We asked what the timetable for that would be.  The Governor said he is uncertain.