How to commission a correctional centre

If you have ever built a house, you’ll know that the work hasn’t finished just because the tradies have packed up their utes and moved on.

There are lots of things to check and inevitably things that need fixing. A light that doesn’t work, or guttering that doesn’t drain. And then there is working out where the furniture goes, which stuff is stored in which closet, and what day bin day is. It takes time to settle into a new house.

Now imagine that instead of building a house, you are building an entire, self-sufficient town for more than 1500 people. And they are all moving in at the same time.

You need accommodation for people with lots of different needs, a medical centre, supermarket, education facilities, industries, and you need to make sure that all of the services, managed and provided by more than 800 workers, are ready and running perfectly, 24-7, from the very first day.

Unlike a house, things can’t be fixed gradually. Everything needs to work, straight away.

Now place all of this behind high security fences, where even the slightest hiccup could endanger the safety of those work there, or even the community, and you start to seek how commissioning a new prison is a complex, time-consuming process.

This is the challenge facing the commissioning team at the Lockyer Valley Correctional Centre (LVCC), a high security men’s prison presently under construction.

An aerial photo of a prison under construction

Lockyer Valley Correctional Centre, under construction near Gatton.

Once the builders leave, but before the first prisoner is received into the new prison, weeks or even months of testing has to occur.

Are the CCTV cameras in the right spot to ensure officers have the visibility they need to safely operate the centre? Does every single one of the 1830 secure doors operate properly?

Every single light and camera and buzzer and extractor fan needs to be operational before the first prisoner is received.

But that is still only a part of the commissioning process.

Every prison has a unique operating model, based on the infrastructure design, the prisoner cohort and even the day-to-day activities. This model – and our officers who operate it – is what keeps the centre operating safely.

In established centres, the officers who work there are familiar with each other, the routines, the infrastructure and the prisoners they are managing, and help new officers get up to speed quickly, just like any other workplace.

But a new prison means a whole new group of officers who have probably not worked together previously, in a new environment, and with a new prisoner cohort who are similarly unfamiliar with the centre, layouts and its routines.

Commissioning is the opportunity to iron out the kinks in operational procedures, staffing routines and movements across the centre to ensure that when the first prisoners are received, the centre is operating securely and safely.

The centre will even be run as if it is fully operational on a 24-7 basis for a time before the first prisoners arrive to fine tune all the moving parts that make up a high security centre.

So how long does this all take?

The answer is ‘as long as it takes’. Probably at least a month. But it may be several months, depending on what issues need fixing.

Depending on when commissioning commences, timing can also be impacted by holiday periods which limit access to external services.

LVCC is a new operating model, with a strong therapeutic focus to address the mental health and addiction issues which are so often the cause of offending behaviour.

The infrastructure is unlike any other prison in the state, so commissioning is vitally important for the officers who will be working there to become familiar with how the centre will operate.

Unlike a suburban house, we can’t simply move prisoners in and work things out as we go along.

Safety and security is absolutely the priority in this process, and until the management team at the centre is sure every aspect of the centre is operating properly, the centre will not receive prisoners.

It all makes building a new house seem simple, doesn’t it?