11 Apr 2023
Statewide prison lock down sends message to government
All South Australian prisons were locked down this morning in response to government inaction over safe staffing.
Correctional Officer members of the Public Service Association (PSA) are taking action this morning after repeatedly having their concerns ignored by Department for Correctional Services (DCS) executive and the Minister for Correctional Services.
Since the State Labor government came to power last year, the PSA has been calling on it to take decisive action on prison staffing and to fix the consequences of the harsh job-cutting agenda implemented by the previous Liberal government. So far, however, all indications are that the current government intends to maintain the previous government’s failed experiment and ignore the crisis in our prisons.
In 2018, the Liberal government embarked on its so-called ‘Better Prisons’ policy to restructure the way prisons operated in South Australia. This policy included the failed privatisation of the Adelaide Remand Centre.
In applying the policy, DCS undertook a desktop assessment of roles required to operate our public prisons. The entire process was ill-informed and destined to fail on delivering real world improvements in prison operations from its inception. Ultimately, this was a job-cutting exercise that has seen a reduction in the efficiency and safety of operations in all South Australian prisons. It has also had a devastatingly negative impact on the workforce in terms of morale and workplace culture.
The PSA believes that with a modest reinstatement of some critical roles at each institution, South Australia’s prison system will operate more effectively, efficiently, and, most importantly, far more safely for Correctional Officers and the prisoners for whom they are responsible.
PSA representatives have consistently been putting the issues of concern to the Department for the past 18 months to two years. The PSA has consistently put these matters to the current Minister from the day he was sworn in.
The PSA has prepared a detailed “Safer Prisons” proposal, covering staffing needs across all South Australian prisons, and submitted it to the Minister for Correctional Services in December 2022 and again in March 2023.
The proposal was also tabled and discussed at meetings with DCS in February and March 2023.
Summary of PSA members’ issues:
Critical staff shortages in SA prisons have resulted in unreasonable workloads and increased overtime required to be worked by Correctional Officers, representing a significant cost to the Department, risks to safety, and significant loss of efficiency.
Staff shortages mean prisoners’ out-of-cell times are regularly reduced and the cancellation of their education and work programs. As well as reduced access to rehabilitation opportunities, this can lead to prisoners becoming adversarial and combative which can result in serious safety issues.
Prisoner drug testing is backlogged at most prisons and often not completed due to insufficient staffing levels.
Staff shortages have resulted in prison managers, often not trained for custodial work, undertaking general duties Correctional Officer roles during night shift.
Contractors required to do work at prison sites are frequently turned away due to staff not being available to escort them to their jobs without locking down divisions.
Prisons are regularly operating on “run short” policies. These policies are designed to allow minimal operations in exceptional circumstances when staffing is at dangerously low levels. Prison management has been using these policies to make up for poor planning, causing further safety issues in the prisons.
Short staffing has caused the closure of workshop areas. As well as reduced opportunities for prisoners to engage in rehabilitation programs, this has resulted in workshops being unable to fulfil commercial contracts, costing the Department valuable revenue.
Quotations attributable to PSA General Secretary Natasha Brown
“Our members do not lock down prisons lightly. The action today is an indication of how serious our members’ concerns are, and reflects the sheer frustration our members feel.
“The PSA developed a detailed proposal outlining how modest increases in, and reallocation of, staffing could result in a more efficient prison system that is safer for both staff and prisoners.
Our realistic, practical and achievable plan for better and safer prisons in South Australia is based on the vast and expert experience of our members who work in prisons every day.
“Our members are calling for a small number of staff to be deployed into key roles specific to each prison site to ensure the safe and efficient operation of those prisons.
“The Department and the Minister have essentially dismissed our members’ concerns and have so far refused to consider, let alone commit to, any of the changes we have proposed.
“The Department and Minister have ignored our consistent calls since June last year to review the consequences of the previous government’s discredited job slashing policy.
“It's time for the DCS Executive to come out from behind their data dashboards, go behind the prison walls into the divisions, to see what is really going on.
“The PSA calls on the Department for Correctional Services to acknowledge and deal with our members’ staffing and safety concerns as a matter of urgency.
“When our state’s prisons are operating safely and efficiently, offenders are able to access appropriate rehabilitation opportunities, which are critical to reducing recidivism.
With PSA membership you know you're protected at work and have access to a huge range of member benefits. We strive for a South Australian public sector in which staff are highly valued and well resourced, with fair and secure working conditions.