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Pereira, Cathy --- "The tyranny of distance: Disadvantage in Queensland's regional prisons" [2001] AltLawJl 22; (2001) 26(2) Alternative Law Journal 74

The Tyranny of Distance

Disadvantage in Queensland’s regional prisons.

Cathy Pereira[*]

With nearly half of Queensland’s prisoner population being held in regional and remote custodial centres throughout Queensland, and another multi-million dollar secure complex planned for Maryborough in Queensland’s Hervey Bay region, the impact of decentralisation on prisoners and their families must be scrutinised.

Why the rush towards decentralisation? Why build a high security prison in a quiet rural area of the State? Does Maryborough seed a hidden network of career criminals with links to Maryborough families? In the lead-up to Queensland’s 17 February 2001 election, Peter Beattie was keen to publicise planned tax incentives for industrialisation of regional areas of the State (such as Hervey Bay). It seems the Beattie government was ahead of itself with the decision, announced last year, to build the $97 million prison in Maryborough, an area of low employment, with little infrastructure, and which is not easily accessible from any of the main urban areas of the State.

Economic and political benefits of relatively low-cost building, and boosting employment figures in depressed rural areas may be only part of the incentive for the move towards regionalisation. For Corrective Services there may be an added benefit in a State where prisons are widely dispersed in terms of ‘managing’ prisoners who are perceived as ‘difficult’. At least two prisoners who have repeatedly challenged prison management decisions through self-represented legal action have been transferred to prisons most distant from Brisbane. This creates difficulties for prisoners in gaining access to legal advice, and in completing procedural litigation steps such as discovery.

This article highlights some of the problems encountered by prisoners in regional and remote prisons and their families. The article’s primary focus is on prisoners serving custodial sentences. Non-custodial offenders, those on non or post-custodial orders managed by Community Corrections (such as home detention and parole), are only briefly mentioned.[1]

Problems stem not only from the remoteness of prison services, both custodial and community corrections, but also the under-resourcing of those services. In a recent article in Corrections News,[2] entitled ‘Thumbs up for Queensland’,[3] the Department of Corrective Services boasts of having ‘the lowest average recurrent costs per prisoner per day both in secure and open custody’,[4] with an average cost in secure custody of $112.90, and $52.20 for open custody. The national average cost of detaining a prisoner in custody is $142 per day. Prisoners Legal Service (PLS) and other organisations providing prison-related services, see daily how the costs of government under-resourcing are ultimately borne by the prisoners, their families, and the wider community. These costs are reflected in problems such as the lack of basic services available to prisoners, long delays in home assessments and family breakdown due to loss of contact. In short, low cost may not represent efficiency so much as neglect. The social costs are exacerbated in already marginalised regional areas.

Much of the material for this article is gleaned from Prisoners Legal Service’s annual regional prison visits. The visits encompass all custodial centres in the State from the NSW border prison at Rathdowney to Lotus Glen on the Atherton Tablelands. It is based on the reports of individual prisoners and, in some cases, problems reported by Inmates’ Needs Committees, where they exist. Prisoners Legal Service is also indebted to organisations such as the Far North Queensland Family and Prisoners Service, which provides weekly welfare and crisis support and advocacy for prisoners (as well as a shuttle bus service between Cairns and Lotus Glen Correctional Centre on the Atherton Tablelands, for prisoners’ families).

The correctional environment

The lack of professional and other services available in Queensland’s regional prisons has a huge impact on prisoners. For example, access to psychological, counselling and educational services impacts on the length of time a prisoner will spend in custody, and whether or not post-custodial options (such as home detention or parole) will be available to the prisoner. It may mean the difference between being granted parole or remaining in custody for the duration of the prisoner’s sentence.[5]

The reason for psychological, counselling and educational services assuming such importance has its origins in the 1988 Review into Corrective Services in Queensland (the Kennedy Report).[6] The report recommended a change in emphasis from ‘imprisoning’ people to ‘rehabilitating’ them. Prisons were re-named ‘correctional centres’, and the report began a trend towards Queensland Corrective Services perceiving itself as providing a ‘rehabilitation service’.

Despite the Report’s recommendation that ‘corrections are best undertaken in the community setting’,[7] Queensland Corrective Services has increasingly moved towards a policy position that prisoners must prove they are ‘rehabilitated’ before they are allowed to move out of medium or maximum security prisons.[8] Former Director-General, Keith Hamburger,[9] spoke in glowing terms of his perception that ‘Inmates should ‘graduate’ from our correctional centres’.[10]

On the recommendation of the Kennedy Report, parole boards became known as ‘community corrections boards’.[11] Compulsory re-education programs ‘to address offending behaviour’, were introduced.[12] A trend towards denying prisoners parole until completion of these programs, gained greater impetus after the Queensland government’s ‘shoot-the-messenger’ style sacking in May 1997[13] of the then Queensland Community Corrections Board after three prisoners re-offended on parole, with terrible (and highly publicised) consequences.

A logical step might have been to question how best to support and assist rehabilitation after release, or to question the adequacy of supervision of violent offenders in the community, or even to consider community services to address the antecedents to offending of serious violent offenders. To date, it is unclear whether the Department has undertaken any scrutiny of the ‘rehabilitation’ programs and whether they achieve their objectives. Certainly, no details of any such scrutiny have been published.

In short, there is no evidence to support the supposition of Corrective Services and the Board that prison programs currently provide rehabilitation. On the contrary, there is a strong correlation between imprisonment and recidivism. This correlation has strengthened since the introduction of the offender programs.[14] Despite this, Community Corrections Boards, no doubt mindful of their positions after the 1997 Board sacking, repeatedly and consistently refuse parole for prisoners who have not undertaken programs (irrespective of whatever other efforts may have been made towards rehabilitation; and irrespective of whether the programs are actually available or not).

Another obstacle for prisoners is the requirement that they have ‘graduated release’.[15] This refers to transfer to progressively lower security prisons and half-way houses before becoming eligible for parole or home detention. The benefits of reducing supervision before returning to the community, need no elaboration, and in general prisoners prefer gradual release. This apparently simple idea has become lost in a maze of bureaucracy around assessing a prisoner’s ‘security classification’. By applying this broad and nebulous concept, the progress of prisoners depends, not on their own willingness to cooperate with requirements or to take initiative in their own ‘rehabilitation’, but on factors such as availability of programs, and the personal perceptions of bureaucrats in the Department.

‘Security Classification’ gives Corrective Services bureaucrats a good deal of discretion in determining who will progress and who will not. The determinants are so broadly defined as to make their application fairly arbitrary. For instance, ‘escape risk’ is a relevant factor. This seems to be loosely interpreted as meaning that anyone who has absconded from any custody within the last 10 years or more, will be denied transfer to a prison farm (open security), thus denying their eligibility for parole. This has included, for example, a prisoner who jumped out of a courtroom window at a mention years ago, prisoners who have escaped from police custody shortly after arrest (usually as youngsters), a prisoner who went to his father’s funeral on a Leave of Absence, and returned voluntarily one day late. One of the key determinants for lowering classification is whether or not an inmate has completed recommended programs, making access to programs vital to prisoners’ progress.

The Queensland Supreme Court has been reluctant to grant orders setting aside security classification decisions, making them difficult to legally challenge. In the recent case of The Queen v Mitchell,[16] however, a prisoner was re-sentenced by having his recommended parole date recorded as a date for suspension of his sentence, thus guaranteeing his return to the community after the Board refused to grant him parole.[17]

Queensland Corrective Services continues to fail to provide adequate funding for psychological services, counselling, programs and reintegration. This failure to manage prisoners’ cases to ensure all eligibility criteria are met before Board sittings ensures that prisoners, particularly those in regional areas, stay in custody longer and are released with only a short period of community supervision at best.[18]

A key factor in the disadvantages faced by prisoners in Queensland’s rural and regional prisons is the lack of professional services provided, particularly in the areas of psychological services, counselling services (whether prison based or community based) and educational facilities.

Other areas of disadvantage that will be discussed include a lack of access to the following:

• legal information/advice,

• halfway houses (‘release to work’ facilities),

• parole, home detention,

• phones,

• families, particularly in times of crisis,

• mental health and crisis support facilities,

• lack of accommodation of cultural differences in the case of prisoners from remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Each of these issues will be addressed. In addition, the particular problems affecting women and indigenous prisoners in regional and rural prisons will be considered.

Programs, counselling and psychological services

Access to programs (whether or not the programs contribute to the Department’s rehabilitation objectives), is a key to prisoners progressing back to their communities. At the commencement of a sentence, each prisoner is assessed at the prison to determine which programs they should undertake in custody. The purpose of the programs is to address elements of ‘offending behaviour’. Programs available include Anger Management, Cognitive Skills, Substance Abuse, and the Sex Offender Treatment Program. Length of program varies from about eight weeks to 15 months in the case of the sex offender program. There is, therefore, some urgency to get started in order to complete programs before parole eligibility dates.

While prisoners are usually compliant, and often tireless in their efforts to seek out these programs, there remains an ongoing problem in all Queensland prisons, of prisoners accessing some of the main programs. Some programs are only run by psychological staff, making such staff absolutely essential to prisoners in this respect.

In addition to running programs, psychologists are required to prepare progress reports and make recommendations for prisoners going to the community corrections boards. Many prisoners also seek psychological counselling on their own initiative in order to deal with personal problems, or to address ‘offending behaviour’ issues where programs are not available. In this environment access to psychologists and counsellors is essential. The boxed case scenarios illustrate the additional difficulties experienced by those in regional and rural prisons.

Lack of availability of programs, inexperienced program facilitators, and a high turnover of staff, are constant themes for rural and regional prisoners. While all prisoners in Queensland prisons have difficulty accessing programs many rural prisoners have the added disadvantage of high staff turnover, and in some cases simply lack of life experience on the part of program facilitators.[19] Low wages for psychological and counselling staff frequently means that young graduates seeking some ‘work experience’ are employed.

As one former regional prisoner[20] has pointed out, prison should not be seen as a training ground for recently qualified social workers and psychologists. Prisoners, and particularly those from isolated areas are often suffering from conditions such as separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder or clinical depression. These prisoners should have access to experienced and empathetic professional staff.[21]

Sex offender programs are a particularly under-resourced area. Only one Queensland prison, in Brisbane, runs such a program. Prisoners may be told, literally for years, that they are ‘wait-listed’. There is no definite starting time, as participants set their own pace and entry onto the program depends on the progress of those already doing the program.[22] Priority is given to prisoners who are within 15 months of their remitted date,[23] even though this will, in most cases, see them remain in custody well past their parole dates.[24]

Indigenous prisoners

Most programs are designed for non-indigenous males, and are irrelevant in some essential respects to the experience of women and indigenous men. A ‘culturally appropriate’ sex offender program for indigenous prisoners at Townville Correctional Centre, has been promised by Corrective Services for several years.[25] Townsville’s prison population comprises approximately 57% indigenous prisoners, and Lotus Glen has a predominantly indigenous prison population, many of whom come from remote communities on Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands. Violence, including sexual violence, has frequently been identified by indigenous women’s groups as a high priority in terms of addressing the needs of the women in their communities.[26]

The urgency of this situation seems to have eluded Corrective Services. The Department, in its bid for millions of dollars’ worth of capital expenditure, has been little interested in providing indigenous support services that might address community violence as an aspect of offending behaviour. However, the Indigenous Services Unit at corrective Services is now in the process of developing an indigenous program to address community violence, with funding provided by the Office of the Status of Women, Premiers’ Department.

Another consideration which may have been overlooked by bureaucratic planners in Brisbane is the availability of the Townsville sex offender program (when it does eventuate) for indigenous prisoners from far north Queensland. There is a presumption that the program will service ‘northern’ indigenous prisoners as a group. However, as pointed out by one organisation,[27] the indigenous cultures of the Cape and the Torres Strait Islands, and Townsville are quite different. There are language barriers. Some indigenous prisoners may speak a number of local indigenous languages, with English being a second, third, fourth or fifth language. Apart from cultural and language barriers, prisoners transferring to Townsville from the far North, are likely to be isolated from family and peer support.[28]

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates have literacy problems which impact on their ability to participate in programs (where they are available), since literacy is a pre-requisite for participation. This prevents indigenous inmates from taking advantage of most available educational courses. Existing literacy and numeracy programs in regional prisons are inadequate to meet needs.

An indigenous counsellor at one regional centre with a large number of indigenous prisoners reported[29] a need for a culturally appropriate substance abuse program, particularly for young offenders. An existing program Ending Offending is culturally specific and available but only addresses alcohol abuse and does not deal with other types of substance abuse such as petrol and glue sniffing. A senior indigenous counsellor stated that this type of substance abuse is a significant cause of offending and other problems for a large number of young Aboriginal inmates. Yet there is no recognition of this or assistance available.

Despite indigenous women having identified the need for a reduction in violence in indigenous communities,[30] there is currently no domestic violence educational program available to enable indigenous prisoners to address these issues while in custody.


Women are accommodated in small annexed areas of the men’s prisons in Townsville and at rural Numinbah in the State’s South East. Women at Townsville do not have programs that are relevant to them. Program facilitators ‘adapt’ the programs, designed for non-indigenous male prisoners, attempting to make them relevant to the women.

Women at Townsville reported difficulties accessing programs in 2000, particularly ‘core’ programs,[31] due to a shortage of psychological staff.[32] This has an extremely prejudicial effect on women’s progress through the correctional system. Because of the security classification system, prisoners are unlikely to be granted an ‘open’ security classification until programs are completed. Without an ‘open’ classification, transfer to lower security and approval for leaves of absence, home detention or parole are almost impossible.

Legal information and advice

Rural and regional prisoners have far more limited access to legal advice than metropolitan prisoners. Legal Aid provides a duty lawyer to Townsville Correctional Centre weekly, and Lotus Glen fortnightly, and weekly video link-ups with Rockhampton. Other regional/rural prisoners do not receive duty lawyer visits.

Legal aid visits, where they do exist, may be of little assistance to prisoners. Many prisoners, particularly those from remote areas, do not understand the system, and therefore have difficulty identifying legal injustices. This is compounded by the fact that most solicitors are not familiar with ‘prison law’.[33] In general, Legal Aid is not available. PLS is focused only on ‘prison law’ but is based in Brisbane. Prisoners may access PLS by a free phone link with the prisons eight hours per week. This system is only ever partly functional as it depends on the cooperation of prisons in ensuring phones are funded to operate during phone advice times. Prisoners find great difficulty in getting through due to the heavy demands on the two available lines.

PLS provides legal information pamphlets to prisons but it was evident during the 2000 regional visit that some centres had not made these accessible to prisoners. The women’s library at Townsville (which doubles as a phone booth), had no pamphlets. The women’s ‘library’ at Numinbah,[34] had no legal information or pamphlets. Women in Townsville’s lower security area had no handbooks pertaining to rules and regulations under which they were detained. Information had been sought from correctional officers but they had proved unreliable in their knowledge of rules and procedures.[35]

The lack of legal information, creates a vacuum of knowledge about prisoners’ rights, and avenues of legal redress. In the case of women’s facilities, the lack of library facilities is contrary to the Minimum Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia and contravene the Corrective Services Act 1988 (Qld).[36]

Halfway houses

Halfway houses, or ‘Release to Work’ facilities are an important step towards home detention or parole, particularly for long-term prisoners. They provide an opportunity for prisoners to re-integrate under supervision, while prisoners prove they can be trusted in a community setting. Proof of ‘trustworthiness’ in a community setting[37] is a consideration which weighs heavily in decisions about home detention or parole.

For male prisoners in regional areas, the limited options available include a six-person facility in Rockhampton, some remote pastoral locations, ‘outstations’ in the far North providing unsupervised work for indigenous male prisoners and the ‘WORC’ (Western Outreach Camp) programs[38] providing rural community work in Western Queensland for non-violent male offenders. Acceptance onto these programs is discretionary, and many prisoners are deemed unsuitable.[39]

Women in regional prisons are disadvantaged, not only by comparison with women prisoners in Brisbane with access to a half way house, but also by comparison with rural programs available to male prisoners. There are no ‘release to work’ options for these women other than a transfer to Brisbane. Some may be eligible for Leaves of Absence,[40] but they do not have access to programs such as those mentioned.

Many prisoners are reluctant to transfer to a Brisbane facility even where this is available as they see it offering little benefit to their re-integration for the following reasons:

• they would not have families and support networks available to assist reintegration;

• temporary work obtained will provide no ongoing benefit in terms of either a permanent job or an employment network;

• an extended period away from families and support networks, may be extremely daunting, particularly for many indigenous prisoners;

• it should be noted that transfer to Brisbane may contravene Recommendation 168 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.[41]

The lack of facilities severely limits opportunities for reintegration of rural and regional prisoners. Many northern prisoners in particular serve their full term or are released years after their parole date.

Parole and home detention

Obtaining parole is frequently difficult for rural prisoners. As discussed, parole is difficult to access because of the lack of facilities for re-integration (to prove trustworthiness), lack of programs to satisfy the Board that a prisoner has ‘addressed offending behaviour’, and often the lack of available sponsors for home detention in the local area.

A ‘home detention’ residence must be within a reasonable distance of the local community corrections office[42] and there must be a sponsor resident who has been approved by Community Corrections. The ‘reasonable distance’ requirement excludes indigenous prisoners from remote communities, and prisoners whose only family live in inaccessible rural areas.

An initial obstacle for many rural and regional prisoners is that the under-funding of community corrections[43] may mean that there are long delays in obtaining approval for leave of absence and home detention.[44] While Community Corrections staff have reported backlogs because of insufficient staff to cope with work loads generally, delays may be exacerbated in rural areas where staff may travel longer distances than metropolitan staff to undertake home assessments. Women have reported difficulties and delays in obtaining Leaves of Absence[45] to begin the eligibility process for resettlement purposes.[46] In Townsville, the prison reported that there were delays in Community Corrections completing home and sponsor assessments on out of town applications.[47]

Lack of leaves of absence and pre-release programs for women makes reintegration particularly difficult for women intending to resume a full-time parental role on their release. As woman are usually primary care givers to children in a family unit, and most women in prison are mothers of dependent children,[48] their imprisonment often means the breakdown of the family unit. A study by Catholic Prison Ministry (Qld) found that 13 out of 19 male inmates identified the other parent as the primary caregiver to their children, compared with only 3 out of 11 female inmates.[49] Children of women in prison may be placed in foster care or with relatives, but rarely with the other parent.

Re-establishing parental bonds and the extent of social expectations of women as parents compared with expectations of men make this a necessarily long process.[50] Because of this breakdown in the family unit, many women from rural and remote areas do not see their children while they are in custody. Leaves of absence may be a first step towards re-establishing contact before any real parent–child bonding and repair of the relationship can begin.


Nearly every phone call from a rural prison is an STD phone call. Prisoners may earn as little as $16.00 per week, which is barely sufficient to cover the cost of basic amenities such as toiletries. This is the dilemma facing many prisoners in rural prisons. Even where prisoners can afford to make phone calls, few phones are available to meet demand.[51] This becomes particularly significant for prisoners isolated from family and community, where visits are not possible.

Telstra has a monopoly on phone services to the prisons, and charges above normal community rates. A prisoner at Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, a prison housing prisoners from some of the most remote areas of Australia, reported the cost of making an STD phone call as higher than mobile phone calls:

• 40c per 38 sec STD on weekdays

• 40c per 55 sec STD on weekends.

Corrective Services denies any responsibility for phone services, claiming that Telstra sets rates and provides the back-up services.

Families and visits

The need for flexibility for visitors travelling long distances

Families of prisoners in rural areas may travel 300 kilometres or more to visit their relative, partner or parent in prison. Prisoners at one regional prison reported to PLS instances of visitors arriving late after travelling from country areas and being denied visits because of their late arrival.

Lack of public transport

There is no public transport in most rural areas, particularly from remote northern communities. Palen Creek, near the NSW border has no public transport available for visitors to fine defaulters and short-term prisoners.[52]

Health services and crisis support units

Health service issues reported to PLS during regional visits are too numerous to cover in detail in this article. In general terms, complaints received related to health services being inadequate, professional services being poorly delivered, lack of access to dental services, prescribed medication being denied and lack of mental health services.

Health services

The isolation of some rural prisons is a significant hindrance to the delivery of professional services and is potentially fatal in the case of medical emergencies. Medical services both within and available to prisons are limited. Rural prisons do not have 24-hour nursing staff available. Delays in calling an ambulance in an emergency and the distance from some remote prisons to the nearest hospital are potentially fatal factors.

Prisoners at Palen Creek and Numinbah can only access dental treatment if they agree to being transferred back to a secure prison. This presents a nightmare for some prisoners, as they enter a new and often hostile prison culture, and risk being caught in a fight not of their own making. This in turn may be sufficient for them to be denied parole or other release.[53] Accepting a transfer to obtain treatment may be a gamble, since treatment is not guaranteed. This depends on numbers and availability of dental services. This may mean no treatment at all on a transfer or only partial treatment.

Mental illness and crisis management

There are no facilities for inmates with mental illnesses or psychological disorders. While prisoners with diagnosed mental illnesses in Brisbane metropolitan hospitals may be referred to a psychiatric hospital, regional and rural community psychiatric services are limited. The main response in some prisons is to medicate prisoners presenting with a mental health problem. Health management tends to be reactive rather than proactive because of limited facilities. For example, if a prisoner has a crisis, detention in an observation unit may be the action taken.

Facilities in medical clinics are extremely limited in some of the rural prisons, and may be psychologically damaging for a person in crisis. This is particularly so where medical crises are treated as prisoner management crises with the main response being isolation of the prisoner in an observation cell, and possible sedation.[54]

As a minimum first step towards meeting the needs of mentally ill inmates, there should be regular visits by a psychiatrist for people needing to access such a service. This is lacking in many rural prisons. Attention also needs to be given to better access to community counselling, health and other services.

Crisis support units

There are two regional crisis support units (CSUs), at Rockhampton and Townsville. Prisoners considered to be in crisis are placed in specially designated 24-hour monitored isolation cells. A prisoner’s case is reviewed several times weekly. One of the complaints frequently heard from prisoners is the lack of ‘support’ in CSUs, in terms of emotional support and access to supportive peers.

The isolation response seems unusually harsh from a non-medical perspective. The way that isolation is used also seems to depend to some extent on staff attitudes. Some CSU staff claim that there is a culture of vigilance in which prisoners are kept in isolation only as long as considered to be absolutely necessary, with cigarette breaks and contact with other prisoners. At the other end of the spectrum, on 21 June 2000, the Townsville Bulletin reported that three prisoners detained in the Townsville CSU were allegedly subjected to severe mistreatment. One prisoner was reportedly held in a body belt, denied water, medicated with an injection that made her drowsy and reportedly forced to drink her own urine to quench her thirst.

Whether or not such allegations are substantiated by independent investigation, they suggest the need for an independent inquiry into the use of CSU’s and the training of staff monitoring them. They highlight the need for regular independent scrutiny of all aspects of CSUs in prisons.

Other indigenous issues

Given the over-representation of indigenous people in the prison system generally and the large numbers of indigenous prisoners in all of the northern prisons, there is a need for cultural awareness training for some staff[55] and special provision for indigenous cultural needs. While some prisons such as Lotus Glen make provision for some indigenous cultural needs, this is absent in other prisons. Minimum requirements include the following:

• a meeting place for indigenous inmates,

• an elders group, such as the justice group in Townsville,

• a strong buddy support group,

• art facilities for indigenous artists to paint or do ceramic work,

• an indigenous pastor, and

• NAIDOC day celebrations.


Indigenous prisoners frequently encounter difficulties in meeting family and community commitments. Particularly contentious are the obligations associated with attending funerals. A prisoner may have a family duty to attend to show respects to the deceased and the family. Failure to do so may be regarded as a breach of duty to the family or community. Prisons accommodate funeral attendance only to the extent that at least half of the cost of attending is borne by the family or community. This may be a huge burden on families where the cost of flying a prisoner with two escorting prison officers amounts to $1500 or more. Prisoners have reported family disapproval where the cost was prohibitive and the prisoner was unable to attend.


Despite a crime rate that has been consistently below the national average,[56] prisons are a growth industry in Queensland. A sharp increase in prison numbers in 1993 was inconsistent with crime rates, and appeared shortly after the opening of Queensland’s first private prison. Placing prisoners in remote prisons, thereby isolating them from family support and access to legal advice, may result in many questionable aspects of prisoner management escaping scrutiny.

As highlighted in this article, Corrective Services has shown little interest in providing opportunities for access to rehabilitation and other services for prisoners, despite policies that demand that prisoners prove they are ‘rehabilitated’. Rural and regional prisoners are frequently last in line for departmental resources, consistent with an attitude of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Lack of access to services together with higher imprisonment rates and longer periods in prison have compounded the criminalisation of sections of the community at huge expense to the public and the wider community. In many respects, government resources have been used irresponsibly in addressing crime in the community.

More flexible sentencing options are needed, based on community supervision, non-custodial sentences and rehabilitation. Correctional resources should be targeted to areas of greatest need rather than containing people who do not need to be contained. Many non-violent offenders, particularly women, indigenous and rural prisoners for whom there are fewer community facilities, are unnecessarily being held in high security prisons, secured with para-military style technology designed to combat para-military style attacks.

Prison is a damaging environment, and the traumatisation of people in secure custody is evident in the fears and anxieties expressed by pre and post-release prisoners. Apart from psychologically and socially damaging people, prison makes reintegration a terrible struggle for many released prisoners as evidenced by the high mortality rate of prisoners within three months of release[57] and the high rates of recidivism.

Reintegration, opportunities for accessing community services for rehabilitation, education and training, particularly in rural and regional areas, should be prioritised. Policies and attitudes must be developed to facilitate, rather than hinder, prisoners’ reintegration to the community.


[*] Cathy Pereira is the casework solicitor at the Prisoners Legal Service.© 2001 Cathy Pereira (text)© 2001 Stuart Roth (cartoon)

[1] Community Corrections in Queensland comprises a loose network of under-funded parole offices which, apart from the supervision of parolees and those on home detention, has a variety of duties such as undertaking home assessments for prisoners applying for home detention and parole.

[2] Corrections News, a Department of Corrective Services Publication, 21 February 2001.

[3] Corrections News, above, p.1.

[4] Corrections News, above, p.1.

[5] The lack of some services, particularly post-prison support, is ultimately likely to increase post-release prisoner mortality and re-offending after release.

[6] Final Report, Commission of Review into Corrective Services in Queensland, August 1988.

[7] Recommendation 41, p.viii, Recommendations.

[8] For example, community corrections boards are constrained in their decision making by Ministerial Guidelines issued from time to time, directing them to decide parole, home detention and other community release options, according to the current Minister’s policy position on community release of prisoners.

[9] Corrective Services Annual Report of 1989/90, Department of Corrective Services, p.4.

[10] Corrective Services Annual Report of 1989/90, above. Although he admitted that the system could not rehabilitate, that he was speaking only of fostering a more positive environment, the language used reveals an expectation that rehabilitation may be achieved.

[11] Recommendation 30.

[12] Six or eight week programs entitled for example ‘Anger Management’, ‘Cognitive Skills’, ‘Substance Abuse’ purport to retrain prisoners in different ways of thinking, and thereby to change ‘offending behaviour’. These have been the basis of the Department’s rehabilitation programs.

[13] Criminal Justice Commission, ‘Prisoner Numbers in Queensland, An examination of population trends in Queensland’s correctional institutions’, March 2000, p.61.

[14] At 30 June 1987, 54% of prisoners had previously been in prison. By 1998, the number of prisoners previously imprisoned had increased to 62%. Criminal Justice Commission, above, p.6.

[15] Staged release is a stipulation under Ministerial Guidelines issued to the Qld Community Corrections Board pursuant to s.139(1) CSA.

[16] Indictment 187 of 1999, Supreme Court, Brisbane, 8 December 2000.

[17] Mitchell applied for re-sentencing to overcome the obstacles to his being paroled. He had been sentenced to two years for assaulting a police officer, with a recommendation for parole after eight months. After serving 14 months, he sought re-sentencing on the basis of a factual error of substance. It was submitted that the sentence contained an expectation at the time of sentencing that he would be entitled to parole after serving eight months. The sentencing judge agreed that he had sentenced Mitchell on the basis that he could be granted parole after eight months, and re-sentenced him to a sentence suspended after eight months. Judge Samios, concluded that as Mitchell had completed recommended programs, ‘the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that it is the security classification of the applicant that is the threshold bar to his eligibility for parole’.

[18] Prisoners are then released, with no post-release support, often with drastically changed family circumstances, no home, no money or employment, and are expected to re-integrate into the alien world of the wider community.

[19] A frequent complaint is that prisoners say that they do not feel comfortable with some of the very young psychologists. The complaint is that there is mutual misunderstanding — they feel misunderstood and the prisoner finds the concepts incomprehensible. One psychologist approached about this said that although the concepts can be very abstract she thought this was ‘good for them — it gives them something to reach for’.

[20] Alan McDonald, Townsville.

[21] Comments by Alan McDonald.

[22] Ranging from 11 to 18 months.

[23] Eligibility for remitted release is set at two-thirds of the sentence, although this is subject to another departmental discretion and is soon to be abolished.

[24] The recent case of Thompson v Brisbane Regional Community Corrections Board [2000] QSC 471 acknowledged that ‘… rehabilitation programs in the corrective system tend to be under-resourced compared with higher profile popular causes’ (p.5).

[25] After years of waiting we are told this is to start in May 2001.

[26] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Taskforce on Violence 1999, Report of the Taskforce on Women and the Criminal Code, February 2000, Office of Women’s Policy, Qld Dept of Equity and Fair Trading, p.5; Women Out West, A project of the Women’s Legal Resources Centre, Law Foundation of NSW, 1992. The Report of the Taskforce on Women and the Criminal Code notes that a larger number of indigenous women are killed by their partners and male relatives, p.5.

[27] Judy Andrews, Co-ordinator, FNQFAPS, Cairns.

[28] Communities on the Cape are generally inaccessible by road. According to FNQFAPS, because of the cost of flying to a metropolitan centre such as Cairns (around $500 return), families usually combine a prison visit with another visit, eg medical, educational. However, Cairns is now the centre for these services, and most residents of remote communities would have no reason to visit Townsville.

[29] PLS regional visits 2000.

[30] See ref 27, above.

[31] ‘Core programs’ are those identified by the prison’s Sentence Management Unit, on the prisoner entering custody to begin her sentence. Recommended programs will differ to some extent for each individual, depending on which programs the SMU believes will ‘address offending behaviour’, eg Anger Management, Substance Abuse, Cognitive Skills, Violence Intervention Program.

[32] This was reported during the PLS regional visit in May 2000. There had been a shortage for some time.

[33] This term is used loosely to include generally administrative law, the Corrective Services Act (Qld) and a plethora of rules, regulations and policies relevant to prisoners.

[34] There is no library for women, only a couple of shelves of books in a room used for a variety of other purposes

[35] The centre claimed that women had been provided with induction handbooks explaining the rules. However, PLS was provided with a copy of the induction booklet and found it does not contain any comprehensive information, and is certainly insufficient to rely on.

[36] Section 5.63 of the Guidelines provides: ‘Prisoners should have access to a library adequately stocked with both recreational and information resources, which is operated according to standard library practice. Prisoners should be encouraged to make full use of the library.’

 Section 36(1) of the Act provides: ‘ … a prisoner shall be informed of the prisoner’s entitlements and duties pursuant to this Act or the commission’s rules’. PLS has reported this and all other problems that are found on our regional visits, to Corrective Services.

[37] The primary consideration for Boards determining community release such as parole is the ‘protection of the community’, therefore all evidence that a prisoner is ‘not a risk to the community’ is relevant.

[38] The WORC program allows men convicted of non-violent offences to spend a couple of weeks at a time on community projects, followed by a week home with their families.

[39] During PLS’s last regional visit to Townsville CC, the outstations were only half full, despite a large number of prisoners being eligible for parole. The outstations are primarily for rural indigenous prisoners, and may not suit urban prisoners in regional prisons. The WORC scheme does not accept prisoners convicted of violent offences.

[40] 12 or 24 hour leaves at an approved residence at intervals of one month or more, under strict conditions. This is dependent on finding an approved residence and/or approved sponsor for these leaves. Some leaves are under escort, others unescorted, depending on a range of factors.

[41] This recommends that Aboriginal prisoners should be placed in an institution as close as possible to the family’s place of residence.

[42] A prisoner was denied home detention because home was located on an island in Moreton Bay. Although many island residents commute daily to Brisbane by water taxi, the placement was considered too remote for on the spot home checks.

[43] Corrective Services takes pride in providing services at a cost of $52.20 per day per prisoner.

[44] In a recently reported case, the delays in a regional area resulted in the prisoner, in effect, losing the benefit of home detention, since it was only approved after she was already past her parole eligibility date.

[45] A leave of absence consists of a pass to leave a correctional facility for a designated time, usually no more than 12 hours initially, to a designated place (assessed and approved by community corrections). The purpose is to facilitate community re-integration, family reunion, or to work.

[46] This was one of the issues raised by women at Townsville during the PLS regional visits, 2000

[47] With only $52.20 per prisoner per day spent in this area, it may not be surprising that community corrections offices are understaffed and have large backlogs to cope with.

[48] Carlen, P., Sledgehammer, MacMillen Press Ltd, 1998, p.40; Parliament of NSW Legislative Council, Standing Committee on Social Issues, A Report into Children of Imprisoned Parents, July 1997, p.37.

[49] Healy, K. and Foley, D. and Walsh, K., Parents in Prison & their Families, A report on the family support needs of parents in prison — their partners and children, Catholic Prison Ministry, Queensland, Australia, p.16.

[50] For example, Report of the Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population, Interim Report: Issues relating to Women, July 2000, NSW; Healey, K., Foley, D., and Wash, K., above.

[51] Despite phone calls being limited to six minutes.

[52] Fine defaulters and short-term prisoners (up to six months) are housed in a different area to the longer term, sentenced prisoners. Due to lack of visits facilities, these two groups have separate visiting times. The only bus service from a nearby town to Palen Creek, makes one return trip only to the prison on visit days. This is at times that accommodate the longer term sentenced prisoners. We are told that this issue is being addressed by changing visits times.

[53] On the basis of breach of discipline, or inconsistent behaviour.

[54] Prisoners and others have reported this problem.

[55] This is not to suggest that all staff are unaware — some demonstrate a strong awareness, while racism is endemic in some other prisons.

[56] Criminal Justice Commission, ref. 13, above, Summary, p.5.

[57] For example, Davies, S. and Cook, S., ‘Women, Imprisonment and Post-Release Mortality’, (1998) 14 Just Policy November.

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