Villawood Detention Centre Isn’t Secure

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Major security breaches are occurring at Villawood Detention Centre with power failures, alarm shutdowns and broken cameras on a weekly basis.

New Matilda and Detention Logs can reveal that from October 2009 to May 2011 there were 131 separate incident reports made by Villawood staff reporting alarm failures, computer crashes, security breaches and faulty electricals.

Villawood Detention Centre is surrounded by electric fences, but the internal Department logs, obtained under Freedom of Information Laws, show they frequently fail. Many do not react when they are tested, while some alarms were continuously activating without any apparent stimulus. Many reports describe the alarms being in a state of “constant activation”.

One report describes how a major power failure was caused when a contractor cut through a high voltage power line: “A DIAC contractor has cut through a PHASE 415 high voltage powerline. This has affected power to numerous areas within the centre.”

Some reports also describe cameras being inoperable and broken. “Cameras around different locations were either covered up, blurred or facing the wrong directions … the cameras involved are as follows: 21, 29, 33, 38, 61, 69, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85 and 34.”

The failures raise concerns about record keeping at the centre, with CCTV footage playing a vital role in preventing detainees self-harming and stopping fights. Last week New Matilda and Detention Logs reported on high numbers of self-harm incidents and assaults across the detention network.

The alarm and fence failures can also be linked to periods when detainees have escaped the facility. Other documents obtained under Freedom of Information Laws reveal that the number of escape and escape attempts has dramatically risen in the past 2 years. Across the whole detention network, escape incidents rose from 17 in 2008-2009, to 40 in 2009-2010 and 77 from 2010-2011.

Is Serco held to account for these escapes?

In 2010-2011 the Department of Immigration and Citizenship sanctioned Serco for 25 escape incidents. About a third were recorded. DIAC stated the dollar amount the company was fined is commercial in confidence.

One former employee describes how a detainee managed to get inside a staff area and jumped out a staff kitchen window. “Nobody really asked him any questions, and he just managed to walk in there and hop out.”

There appears to be some uncertainty about the accuracy of these figures though, and the department is unclear on just how many detainees have escaped from Immigration Detention facilities.

In releasing their own documents under Freedom of Information Laws, the department’s FOI decision-maker wrote that one document, which is a spreadsheet of escapes “was a document created by a former staff member of the relevant business area. The accuracy of this document cannot be verified by the business area.”

New Matilda asked the Department of Immigration whether the reasons for the security failures at Villawood had been investigated, and whether the infrastructure had been improved. The Department’s spokesperson, Sandi Logan, said that the Department did not comment on specific security issues.

Detainees who escape can be punished with five years in prison.

Luke Bacon, Paul Farrell, and Lawrence Bull are the co-founders of Detention Logs, a project designed to bring accountability to Australia's immigration detention network.

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