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Bullying culture 'rife' in jails
July 1, 2013
The West Australian
Cruel farewell: A Bunbury prison officer received an abusive card from other officers. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian
Now racism, bullying and intimidation among the ranks are exposed in documents that highlight the extraordinary lengths some guards will go to damage their own workmates.
Worse still, the hierarchy would rather slap an officer on the wrist than make an example of them as part of a culture badly in need of cleansing.
When a Bunbury prison officer, described by her union boss John Welch yesterday as a "very pleasant person", arrived home to find a farewell card waiting for her, it marked the end of 15 years stuck in a workplace time warp.
"There's still a purple circle," the retired officer told The West Australian.
The term alludes to a tightly knit clique of powerful prison officers who used to use Freemasonry as their common bond.
In the card was a typed note telling the prison officer she was "useless", "pathetic", "part tarbrush" and "hated".
"It's a bullying culture," she said. "You're never going to be good enough and no matter what you do they belittle you. You had to be strong and I wouldn't crumble. But deep down I was hurting.
"They break you down. You either stay and become a nut case, or leave. I got to the stage where I'd go down the road from the prison and physically wanted to vomit."
The officer's complaint about the card was investigated, but she said the outcome was typical.
The tormentor got a demotion and kept his job, while his victim left a shattered woman after getting a letter from then commissioner Ian Johnson.
"I personally thank you for your service to the department and express my sincere regret that your service ended on such a sour note," Mr Johnson wrote.
As part of the investigation into the hate mail, the prison officer outlined her concerns in writing to a department employee.
"It has gone on for many years and despite other investigations nothing has changed," she wrote last year.
"There are no consequences and good officers like myself have learnt not to complain because it only makes matters worse. At times it was hard to believe that we worked in a government department."
The latest Corrective Services Minister charged with breaking the culture is Joe Francis.
"I didn't know the extent of those cultural issues," he said at the weekend. "It's alarming and it's absolutely disappointing. There is no place for sexism and racism. If there's anyone out there that thinks it's acceptable, then they need to resign today."
Mr Francis intends to bolster avenues for dealing with misconduct but Mr Welch said the department already had the means to punish officers.
"The documents, the 30 concerns about individuals, released through The West if the department had such concerns then why haven't any of the individuals been suspended," he said.
"What good are new powers when they haven't even bothered to suspend or charge anyone with the powers that they already have."