Prison manager hangs out with all the boys

By Colin James

A PRISON manager who dressed as a fairy godmother and danced with inmates, including at least one murderer, has been banned from jails by the Correctional Services Department.

Port Lincoln Prison manager Di Cooper was photographed performing with several male prisoners dressed in fancy dress costumes.

The inmates performed songs by early 1980s disco group the Village People during a fundraising event at the prison last December.

The event involved prisoners serving food and alcohol to members of the public, who paid $20 a head to attend.

When contacted yesterday by The Advertiser about the photographs, state Correctional Services Minister Carmel Zollo described the situation as "outrageous". Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O'Connell said it was "despicable".

Mr O'Connell said victims of crime would be "considerably distressed" if they learnt prisoners were provided with alcohol and partied while serving their sentences at Port Lincoln.

"I find it reprehensible," he said.

"While I support efforts towards rehabilitation, I think it is despicable that rehabilitation has essentially dropped to entertainment."

Mr O'Connell, however, said Ms Cooper was entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The Correctional Services Department yesterday didn't respond to a request for details about what policies applied to prison management fratenising with inmates, or if Ms Cooper had breached any.

The former Yatala Labour Prisoner senior manager remained in her position at Port Lincoln until last week, prompting concern by union representatives for her to be suspended. This followed the suspension of a prison officer who allegedly supplied alcohol to the prisoners during the same party.

The department only took action against Ms Cooper last weekend after senior management were shown copies of photographs showing her dressed up as a "fairy godmother". The photographs also showed the male prisoners variously dressed as a drag queen, construction worker, cowboy, American Indian and biker.

One was wearing high heels, black suspenders, black bra, black stockings and black halterneck top.

Ms Zollo yesterday said she had been briefed by the department about the incident, which had been the subject of an official investigation since March.

"As these matters are under investigation, I'm limited on what I can say," she said.

"However, on the surface, this situation is outrageous." Ms Zollo said she expected the department to take the "strongest action possible" against any staff and prisoners involved with the party.

"I expect every issue that has been raised to be fully investigated," she said.

"I do not want to be surprised by this kind of behaviour again."

Victim Support Service chief executive Michael Dawson said the incident had the potential to set back the recovery of victims of the prisoners. "Victims are generally concerned that justice be done through a sanction or punishment and that offender rehabilitation occur to stop a criminal from re-offending," he said.

"They expect that a prison sentence will do both these things. This may, and hopefully will be, an one-off occurrence but could be devastating to many victims," he said.

Department for Correctional Services acting chief executive Greg Weir last night confirmed it received "material" last Saturday which "gave us great cause for concern". He confirmed that an employee from Port Lincoln Prison "has been directed to not attend any prison until further notice".

Attempts by The Advertiser to contact Ms Cooper yesterday were unsuccessful. A prison employee said she was "on leave".