WA Government urged to fund locally-designed prison officer mental health training used throughout Australia

The State Government is being urged to fund a locally-designed mental health training program for stressed-out prison officers, with their union saying the snub comes despite the course being lauded and paid for everywhere else in Australia.

The WA Prison Officers’ Union says more than 7000 correctional staff nationwide and in New Zealand have participated in the program since it was designed in 2018.

It has proved so popular the trainers Greg Holder and Beven Hanlon have been invited as special guest presenters to a significant national corrections conference in the US later this month.

But secretary Andy Smith says the union has so far paid for running the program at WA jails by dipping into fees paid by members and wants more time to present it.

Mr Smith says it’s offered to guards and anyone who works in the State’s 17 prisons and could run more regularly, including for juvenile detention officers, if the WA Government funded and supported it.

He said the number of WA prison officers taking their own lives had fallen since the program was introduced, and the number seeking help from the Employee Assistance Program had risen “dramatically”.

“We’ve seen a massive decline in the number of prison officers reaching that point of no return,” Mr Smith told The West Australian.

“It is a hell of an industry to work in. It’s highly stressful.”

Mr Smith said it wouldn’t require much funding to expand the program, with the bulk of costs relating to two trainers travelling to the State’s various prisons.

“We developed the course internally with the assistance of psychologists, etcetera, and we’re just bearing the costs,” Mr Smith said.

“You would think it would be a natural step (for the State Government) to ensure the mental health of frontline workers.”

On Thursday, the West asked Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston about funding the program.

“I’ve made some commitments to the Prison Officers Union about reviewing the health and safety of prison staff,” Mr Johnston responded.

“And we’re working through the procedures to do those reviews with the union.”

A Department of Justice spokesman said the Commissioner for Corrective Services supported the training package “and has been recommending it to his counterparts in other jurisdictions”.

“The Department of Justice also provides access to other mental health supports and services to all staff,” the spokesman said.

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