Churches call for action to address prison overcrowding

The Uniting Church Synod of Western Australia and the Anglican Diocese of Perth have expressed their concern over the current levels of overcrowding in Western Australian prisons.
At their respective annual meetings held in recent weeks, the Uniting and Anglican Churches each passed resolutions calling on the Attorney General and Minister for Corrective Services to act quickly to respond to the issue of overcrowding in WA Prisons.
The Most Reverend Roger Herft, Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Perth said ‘our churches are deeply concerned about the conditions in which prisoners are being held. The current conditions have the potential to lead to more physical and mental consequences for people who are, perhaps, already at breaking point’.
‘Our concerns are shared by our chaplains who work within prisons and are seeing the effects of overcrowding first hand. We are concerned that the level of overcrowding in Western Australian prisons has become dangerous, with the likelihood of violence, self-harm, suicide and rioting increasing as a result’.
Recent figures obtained from the Department of Corrective Services show that more than half of the prisons in WA are currently holding 20-40% more prisoners than they are designed to hold.
Moderator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia, Rev Ken Williams, has called on the Attorney General and Minister for Corrective Services to ‘do more than just build more prisons’ in order to address the situation.
‘By continuing to incarcerate individuals in already overcrowded facilities, the corrective services system is not doing the best thing by these individuals or by the people of Western Australia’.
With many operating at more than 25% over their designed capacity, the overcrowding of prisons has resulted in shortages of staff for medical, education, administration and security services, plus a shortage of jobs and programs for prisoners.
‘Prisoners are people too, and need to be treated with dignity. The Government needs to ensure that there are adequate resources to care for those that need to be imprisoned and that adequate resources are available for their rehabilitation’ Rev Ken Williams said. ‘But, just as importantly, the Government needs to ensure adequate funding for government programs which offer alternatives to imprisonment – such as work camps and diversionary programs such as the Drug Courts – is made available’.
‘We believe that the WA Government needs to work to reduce the need to imprison individuals, rather than just build more prisons’.
Rev Ken Williams & Reverend Lorna Green (spokesperson for Archbishop Roger Herft)