The Department of Justice’s review of Dhurringile Prison sets out a range of current and future actions to reduce the risk of future escapes from the prison.

The Secretary of the Department commissioned the review after escapes that occurred from the prison between September 2013 and August 2014.

The Department has been working with residents and businesses around Dhurringile (through the Community Advisory Group and local action group) to address the community’s concerns and to plan for changes that will support a safer community.

The review outlines work already done at the minimum-security men’s prison (such as doubling the number of staff at the prison since the middle of last year, strengthening sentence-management procedures and upgrades to infrastructure at the prison) as well as a range of future actions.

The Office of Correctional Services Review (OCSR) has also reviewed the prison. OCSR investigations are not released publicly as they contain sensitive security information and private information about individuals. Both the OCSR and departmental reviews are subject to provisions of the Corrections Act 1986 which prevent the release of detailed information that relates to the security of prisons and the privacy and confidentiality of individuals.

The key outcomes of the departmental review are summarised in this bulletin.

The review

The review examined the prison’s operations, and the community’s submission has been an important part of this process. The review examined:

  • the circumstances surrounding all of the recent escapes in detail
  • the work already underway in response to the escapes and the work to support the prison’s expansion
  • analysis of minimum-security prisons in other jurisdictions
  • a submission from the local Dhurringile Community Action Group
  • security and intelligence assessments.

The review identified a number of areas and themes where more work could be done, including:

  • security
  • Corrections system-wide changes
  • change management and strategic direction
  • infrastructure and operational responses.

Findings

Security lapses at Dhurringile were not responsible for any of the nine escapes in 2013-14 and this current financial year.

The review found that while there was no single theme that contributed to the escapes between September 2013 and August 2014, the review identified a series of common themes, including:

  • all escapes occurred after 5pm
  • almost all of the escapees were transferred directly from front-end metropolitan prisons, rather than graduating to an open camp prison from medium-security prisons
  • the majority of escapees had been at Dhurringile Prison for a short period
  • the average age of the escapees was 37 – an age by which impulsive behaviour is expected to be less likely
  • no prisoners offended in the local area after escaping.

A key feature of minimum-security prisons such as Dhurringile is the focus on preparing prisoners for transition back to the community. In this environment, ‘dynamic security’ – which is based on relationships between staff and prisoners – is important to the safety and security of staff, prisoners and the local community. The fact that staffing at the prison has doubled since June 2013 will continue to facilitate this.

The review found that there is an opportunity to focus on strengthening dynamic security through encouraging improved relationships between staff and prisoners, which will allow for earlier identification of issues that may prompt an escape.

Current and future actions

The department will continue to strengthen prisoner management at Dhurringile Prison, which will help to reduce the future risk of escape.

Specifically, the department is:

  • updating the prison’s operating model to further support staff and prisoner interactions, which will enhance measures to identify prisoners at risk of escape
  • introducing a new management model, and will appoint dedicated General Managers for Dhurringile and Beechworth prisons
  • upgrading facilities to support in-prison programs, education and training opportunities for prisoners
  • continuing to facilitate more timely access to interstate criminal history checks
  • improving processes around prisoners’ medical and psychiatric health status to better support prisoner placement and day-to-day prisoner management 
  • delivering a revised prisoner induction process, which will include housing new arrivals in units where they can be more easily supported and observed, where required.

An Emergency Management Liaison Committee featuring police, ambulance, fire services and prison management will also be set up to strengthen coordination with local emergency services.

Actions arising from the review are described in further detail below.

Security

Work is underway to strengthen the focus on building proactive relationships between staff and prisoners, in other words an increased focus on dynamic security. An important element of dynamic security is the provision of a ‘structured day’ for prisoners, in which a range of activities such as employment and education are offered. The structured day for prisoners has been strengthened to engage prisoners in more after-work activities  such as support programs, education and sporting activities.

Work will continue to support physical security at the prison, including the use of signage, lighting or other technologies for monitoring prisoners. The department will also explore new technologies (such as ‘virtual fences’, for example through video-motion detection) that may provide earlier indications of some prisoners’ attempts to abscond.

An Emergency Management Liaison Committee will strengthen relationships with local emergency services.

Corrections system changes

Corrections Victoria has already made changes to sentence management processes, and has facilitated more timely access to interstate criminal histories as part of the classification and placement process. Processes regarding prisoner assessment and medical treatment status are being improved to better support prisoner placements and day-to-day prisoner management.

Change Management and Strategic Direction

The additional focus on security at Dhurringile Prison will be complemented by a broader range of improvements focused on change management, the prison’s operational model, and infrastructure.

Prison management has already implemented, or is in the process of implementing, a number of measures related to these areas.

As noted above, a new management model for the Hume Region Prisons is being developed. This includes creating dedicated General Managers for both Dhurringile and Beechworth Prisons.

To consolidate existing change management efforts by prison management, the following opportunities have been identified and are being progressed:

  • developing a forward strategy to improve the operations of the prison
  • developing a workforce strategy to more effectively support the operation of the prison
  • providing existing staff with refresher training to address any training gaps, particularly aimed at improving dynamic security
  • developing a mentoring system for new staff.

Infrastructure and operational responses

A number of facilities have already been upgraded to assist with the prison’s functions, including: a new officers’ post and servery to support the Murray Units, and additional offices in the Mansion.

The General Manager of the Hume Region Prisons has also provided advice on infrastructure requirements in the short-term.

In addition to these efforts, prison management has provided an additional layer of assessment for prisoners on reception at Dhurringile. This will include placement of prisoners in units where they can be more easily supported or observed, where required.

Community engagement

In addition to the range of security and infrastructure activities detailed above, the Department will continue to actively engage with the community around the operation of the prison and the contribution it makes to the local community.

Consideration will be given to commencing regular neighbourhood or community meetings to encourage discussion about current issues, and to strengthen the prison’s place within its immediate community.

The department will also provide further bulletins to update the community as implementation of the actions outlined in the review progresses.

16 December 2014