Hundreds of maximum security prisoners have had their video game consoles stripped from the cells after inmates at Hakea Prison were caught secretly accessing the internet with the devices.
The Statewide ban was ordered by Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis on Thursday after guards discovered the security breach at the remand facility in Canning Vale during searches.
It is understood a group of inmates had managed to smuggle a wi-fi “dongle” into the prison and then used their Xbox or Play Station consoles to access the web.
The security breach is being treated as extremely serious because prisoners would have been able to communicate freely with anyone on the outside, including criminal associates.
They also would have been able to access websites offering hard-core pornography and child exploitation material, or use social media to stalk or harass former partners, or even witnesses in approaching trials.
Corrective Services Commissioner James McMahon said though the investigation was only in its early stages, no evidence of any “sinister” activity had as yet be uncovered. “It is an ongoing investigation, we haven’t gotten to the bottom of it and we are not sure how wide it goes, which is why we have taken every console out of Hakea and they are now part of the investigation,” Mr McMahon said.
“It is the first time since I have been commissioner that we have picked this up.
“We do not want people being able to communicate external to the wire or internal to the wire. That is for safety of staff, safety of other prisoners and the safety of the community.”
As a precaution, gaming console privileges have also been withdrawn from all other maximum security facilities including Casuarina, Albany, Kalgoorlie and Greenough prisons.
Mr McMahon said once the investigation was complete, a decision would be made on whether to return the consoles or make the ban permanent.
“It may be that maximums do not get consoles at all (in the future),” Mr McMahon said.
The investigation has identified four inmates who were involved in the Hakea breach, but Mr McMahon said he expected that number would rise as inquiries progressed.
It is estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of WA prisoners have gaming consoles in their cells.
With more than 6100 inmates Statewide, it equates to between 600 and 900 consoles in the prison system.
Mr McMahon said access to gaming consoles was not a right and prisoners regularly had them withdrawn for behavioural issues. The units are paid for by prisoners and before they are allowed in cells, they are opened and checked for contraband, before being resealed with tamper-proof labels.
It is believed that inmates at Hakea would have had to remove those seals to configure their devices for the internet. Prisoners in medium and minimum security jails will have their devices inspected to ensure they have not been tampered with, but they will not be confiscated at this stage.
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