I rise to speak to the Correctional Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill, which has two distinct parts affecting prison management and the parole system. I would like to acknowledge the work of the Hon. Stephen Wade, who has already spoken on this bill on behalf of the Liberal Party as the shadow attorney-general. I thank him for his work and analysis of the bill. His expertise in combing through the legal minutiae is greatly appreciated, certainly on this side of house.
I will keep my contribution reasonably brief as I do not need to repeat what has been said previously. However, as the shadow minister for correctional services, I want to comment on the changes to the prison system as a result of this bill. While the changes may seem straightforward and largely uncontroversial, there are a few aspects of the bill that I would like to highlight. Many of the changes relate to the transfer of powers from prison managers to the chief executive of the Department for Correctional Services. This seems appropriate to provide consistency across the jurisdiction. The strengthening of the provisions for visitors is something that I also welcome. After the member for Bragg’s amendment in the other place, this aims to protect minors under the age of 18 from child sex offenders. It is a shame that the government did not accept the following amendment to protect victims of domestic violence.
The legislating of the issue of weapons to correctional services officers and the use of correctional services dogs is supported, with a few concerns. My question to the government is: what will these weapons consist of? Are we talking about tasers and batons or shotguns? Is it best to leave this open-ended? The department already has issues with deaths in custody. I do not believe this is the best way to necessarily improve the situation. The use of dogs in prisons for drug detection should be put to much broader use in all correctional facilities in this state, particularly those of medium to high security.
I would like to note the section of the bill dealing with drug testing of prisoners. The quicker we can reduce the level of drug use and dependence in the prison system the better. The current level of one in five prisoners is completely unacceptable and the government should be doing all it can to reduce this figure. My office has been contacted by a number of concerned ex-prisoners who have made an effort to wean themselves off of illegal substances while in prison, only to be abandoned when released on parole. How has this been allowed to happen? Many of these parolees then turn back to crime to feed their addictions and perpetuate the recidivist cycle of drugs and crime.
I want to comment on one aspect of the parole side of this bill. The government intends to send parolees who breach their conditions back to gaol for the remainder of their sentence. While this seems appropriate for serious breaches, as parole is a privilege, where is the government going to send them? The capacity of our prison system is already at its maximum and is only going to get worse, given the stats on incarceration. The government is using bandaid measures such as shipping containers to stitch a patch over this particular problem.
As previously mentioned, the opposition is in support of the majority of this bill and our concerns will be addressed via amendments and questions during the committee stage.