The informal `buddy' system which operates within Western Australian prisons has been given a formal boost with the appointment of 10 new Prisoner Support Officers.
Assisting Justice Minister Kevin Minson said the new officers would train and support prisoners to help other prisoners under a more structured system of peer support.
The new officers were stationed at the C W Campbell Remand Centre, Canning Vale, Casuarina, Bandyup, Bunbury, Albany, Greenough, Eastern Goldfields, Roebourne and Broome prisons.
Peer support had been an established but informal practice in WA prisons, starting in 1989 at Fremantle Prison and later progressing to a pilot scheme at Greenough Regional Prison.
Under the scheme, the support officers - who were public servants, not prison officers - would train suitable volunteer prisoners in listening, cultural awareness and other support skills.
"The more formalised approach to peer support at Greenough, which employed the State's first Prisoner Support Officer, proved so successful that it was decided to introduce the system across our prisons," Mr Minson said.
"Having a fellow prisoner to talk to in times of emotional upheaval or stress can provide benefits both to prisoners and to the effective operation of a prison.
"This is particularly true in cases where prisoners may feel vulnerable to self-harm and feel more comfortable confiding in another prisoner who can help with the support and monitoring process, along with trained prison staff."
Each of the new support officers, who form part of the Ministry of Justice Special Needs Team, will design and implement peer support programs suitable to each prison.
The officers come from a variety of working backgrounds including careers in Family and Children's Services, Western Power, the Education Department, youth, legal and nursing fields.
Mr Minson said prison officers had been supportive of the pilot peer support program at Greenough, with similar support expected across all prisons.
"Peer support is not about prisoners taking on the roles of prison officers or other trained professionals in the prison system," he said.
"Prison officers, psychologists, social workers, medical staff and others will still have primary responsibility for assisting prisoners in need.
"Prisoner Support Officers and volunteer prisoners can only complement that support process."
The new Prisoner Support Officers are:
· Roebourne Regional Prison: Angus Smith
· Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison: Victor Cooper
· Bunbury Regional Prison: Irene Calgaret
· Albany Regional Prison: Vernice Gillies
· Greenough Regional Prison: Tom Quartermaine.
Media contact: Caroline Lacy on 222 9211 or 222 9595
Stacey Molloy at the Ministry of Justice on 264 1099.