More needs to be done for mothers incarcerated at female prison unit in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, review finds

Anneke de BoerKalgoorlie Miner
Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison.
Camera IconEastern Goldfields Regional Prison. Credit: Tori O’Connor/Kalgoorlie Miner

More attention is needed to support mothers at the women’s prison unit in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, an inspection review has found.

The women’s unit at Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison came under scrutiny in a newly released report by Inspector of Custodial Services Eamon Ryan which revealed the unit’s mother-and-child cottage had never hosted mother-and-child residents.

The report found the women’s unit — built as a part of a $232 million prison revamp that opened in 2017 — had good infrastructure but was “underutilised”.

Mr Ryan said women at the prison told him they would value the chance to have their child live with them, or at the very least wondered if they could come for extended visits.

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“During the course of our conversations with women, they said that they would love the opportunity to reconnect with their family,” he said.

“We explored the option and found out that the cottage had never been used for that purpose.”

In addition to the underused space, the inspection found the unit had a storage room stacked wall-to-wall with unused baby and toddler equipment.

Stored accessories within the mother-and-child cottage.
Camera IconStored accessories within the mother-and-child cottage. Credit: OICS Report/Supplied

The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services report put forward 13 recommendations, including that eligible women be allowed the opportunity to have extended day-stay or overnight visits with their children, subject to the appropriate risk assessment.

“It’s a common conversation we have with women who are in prison, that desire to keep the connection with their families, their children,” Mr Ryan said.

“Having that stability, and having their children back with them is so important . . . it is very strongly motivating for many women to turn their life around — to do it for their children.”

Opportunities for children to visit their incarcerated mothers for extended stays are offered in Perth prisons such as Bandyup Women’s Prison and Boronia Pre-Release Centre for Women.

Mr Ryan said he accepted extended child visits would not be possible in some cases, with the nature of a prisoner’s offence, history of their behaviour, and risk to the child factors that must be considered.

“Having the connection with children is really important, and that’s why we made the recommendation — not because there’s a huge unmet need, but because it’s a really good idea and it’s a great facility,” he said.

“If it can be facilitated, it would be really positive.”

Despite the OICS report finding women wanted more opportunities to connect with their children, the Department of Justice reported there had been no applications for extended or overnight stays made in the 12 months to January.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told the Kalgoorlie Miner the women at EGRP were encouraged to apply.

“There are no barriers to women having their children stay overnight,” the spokesperson said.

“Staff at Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison encourage this to occur.

“A notice was sent to the women earlier this month to again extend the invitation and remind them about the opportunity for extended day-stay and overnight visits.”

Beyond criticism of the underused facilities, the OICS report commended the Kalgoorlie-Boulder women’s unit for the meaningful work opportunities prisoners were offered.

Women have the chance to be employed in the kitchen, laundry, and gardens outside of the unit in the afternoons.

The inspection also found there were several recreational activities available to women, and the prison generally offered them the chance to receive education.

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