The Independent Visitors Service is an independent form of external scrutiny that monitors the standards of treatment and services in Western Australian prisons and detention centres. As such the service contributes greatly to the vision of a transparent and accountable custodial system.
Independent Visitors are volunteers who contribute to their community by ensuring Western Australian prisons and detention centres operate justly and humanely.
Independent Visitors attend their allocated prison or detention centre at least once every three months to talk with prisoners or juvenile detainees, and prison officers or juvenile custodial officers about their concerns or issues regarding the facility. Visits take place during office hours. There is no after hours or weekend work. A visit would normally take a number of hours in order for the facility to be viewed and so those wishing to speak with the Independent Visitor can have access to them. Visitors generally spend between 3-5 hours on a visit.
Independent Visitors assist by:
Prisoners or juvenile detainees may want to talk about personal problems. It is important that Independent Visitors are approachable. It is also important the individual sharing their problem is comfortable with the Visitor discussing these issues with an officer or the Superintendent so assistance can be rendered via the mechanisms within the facility.
Within ten days, Independent Visitors write and submit a report on their visit to the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services. Proficiency in word processing and communicating by email is desirable. The report will include concerns raised; outcomes that may have been achieved or possible solutions discussed with the Superintendent and staff, and any personal observations, assessments and recommendations the Visitor wishes to make about the prison or detention centre.
The written report is forwarded to the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services where the information is analysed, and where responses to some of the matters raised may be sought from the Department of Corrective Services. The Independent Visitor reports assist the Office to maintain a fresh view of conditions within custodial facilities. Once every 3 years a team from the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services conducts a full Inspection of every prison and detention centre in Western Australia. The information provided by Independent Visitors assists the Inspection process. Published Inspection Reports are tabled in Parliament and subsequently released to the public.
Prior to commencing, appointed Independent Visitors are given training on how the service is administered, important safety aspects when working in custodial places and broad information about the facility to which they have been appointed. New Visitors can 'shadow' more experienced Visitors until they are comfortable in the role. Each Independent Visitor report is distributed to the other Visitors who visit the same facility.
There is no doubt being an Independent Visitor is demanding but it is also rewarding, for the volunteer, the prison or detention centre and the community.
Independent Visitors have five main interconnected functions:
Independent Visitors are required to visit their appointed facility at least once every three months.
Information gathered by Independent Visitors provides regular and fresh intelligence. This merges with the Office's own assessment of the performance of prisons and detention centres.