Fines for prison visitors who try to bring in contraband have been increased six-fold in Western Australia and smugglers could also wind up behind bars themselves.
As face-to-face social visits resumed on Saturday, a drug search blitz was carried out across the state’s correctional facilities, prompting some visitors to do a quick U-turn as they drove up and spotted sniffer dogs.
In addition to vehicle and personal searches, a hand-held X-ray device that can detect contraband hidden in car doors, tyres and behind steel panels was trialled at Hakea Prison.
Stiffer penalties now apply under legislation that was passed during the three-month suspension of visits during the coronavirus, the first time they have been adjusted since 1981.
Visitors attempting to bring in contraband previously faced a $2000 fine or 18 months in prison, but can now be slugged $12,000 and jailed for 18 months.
Refusing a search can incur a $6000 fine and anyone caught loitering around a jail or concealing a prohibited item for an inmate could be fined up to $6000 and spend 12 months in the clink.
“This is the new normal,” Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan said.
“You could also face penalties that are six times higher than before and end up as a prisoner yourself.”
Statewide randomised drug testing of prisoners suggests drug use fell during the suspension of visits, when special attention was turned to mail.
Last month, nine positive samples were returned from 1077 prisoners, compared with 35 from 1073 prisoners in February.
“Clearly there’s a big lesson here that the drugs were coming in via family members,” Premier Mark McGowan said.
“We’re going to do things more stringently to prevent the drugs coming in in future.”
More than 100 video call kiosks were set up at WA prisons during the suspension, allowing inmates to even see their pets and overseas-based relatives.
Corrective Services last month said it planned to continue offering e-visits, giving visitors a convenient alternative, particularly for those who live far remotely or have difficulties travelling.
“It may also afford prisoners the chance to see family members who are in hospital and even witness funerals they’re unable to attend,” Corrective Services Commissioner Tony Hassall said at the time.