TWO expensive units at one of WA's toughest prisons have been closed after a safety test discovered it was possible to kick through the secure cell doors within 22 seconds.
WA Prison Officers Union secretary John Welch said officers at Casuarina Prison were plunged into chaos when the “extraordinary” safety issue was discovered last week.
Five of the units (two at Casuarina Prison for 256 prisoners, two at Hakea and one at Albany) were officially opened by the State Government a year ago at a total cost of $70 million.
But construction problems meant prisoners entered the units only about four months ago.
Mr Welch said officers were forced last week to cram hundreds of prisoners back into their old units, which had been stripped of items such as beds, to combat overcrowding in other areas of the prison.
Opposition corrective services spokesman Fran Logan said recent testing by the Emergency Support Group found the glass and doors to the internal control rooms were easy to break through.
“At the end of the day, Corrective Services Minister Murray Cowper must be held accountable for this very expensive shambles,” he said.
Mr Welch said many staff had “grave concerns” about the failure, particularly those who had experienced the Christmas Day riots of 1998 at Casuarina.
He said delays to prison upgrades and overcrowding meant the State Government had been under a lot of pressure to open the units.
“It wasn't just that they were able to smash their way through with, say, a hammer or another weapon, it was actually just an officer with his foot,” Mr Welch said.
He said none of the union's members would work in the units again until the doors were reinforced with custom-fabricated grilles or bars and were thoroughly safety tested, which could take at least six weeks.
Mr Cowper said prison security and the safety of those working in prisons was his top priority and he stressed the problem had been identified before any incident occurred.
“Our $655 million capital infrastructure program will add more than 2500 beds to the prison system,” he said.
“In comparison, Labor added less than 300 beds to the system during its eight years in government.”
- About 320 prison guards
- More than 600 inmates in a prison built for 390
- Around 12 per cent of the WA prison population (there are 4900 prisoners statewide in facilities designed for 3500)