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Queensland prisons holding 1600 inmates above capacity

Inmates in the priviledged section of the Maryborough Correctional Centre.Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle

Queensland prisons holding 1600 inmates above capacity

ALL but one high-security prison in Queensland is severely overcrowded, with an extra 1606 inmates above capacity being squeezed into the system.

Inmates numbers released on March 10 show there were 7744 prisoners in 12 high security facilities across the state stretching from Atherton to Gatton that are built to hold just 6138 people. 

Every one of them was over capacity on Friday except for one - the newly reopened Borallon Training and Correctional Centre near Ipswich. 

With a capacity of 248, it had room for just three more prisoners before it too would be overcrowded. It was reopened in April 2016.

The state's two biggest prisons, both male centres, were the most packed.

Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre was built to house 890 prisoners. On Friday it had 1180 inmates.

Woodford Correctional Centre has a capacity of 1008. On Friday, it held 1228 people.

Facilities for female prisoners were also severely crowded.

Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre had 396 women housed there on Friday, squeezed together in cells built for 267 people.  Townsville Women's Correctional Centre had 195 people in cells built for 154 people. 

Inmates exercising at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre.
Inmates exercising at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre. Rob Williams

Queensland Corrective Services usually accommodates these extra prisoners with mattresses on the floor. Those who sleep on the floor sleep with their heads next to the exposed toilet. 

"QCS manages the demand of increasing prisoner numbers within the built infrastructure through the use of double up placements," a spokesperson said in a statement released to News Regional Media.

"A small number of secure cells in Queensland have built infrastructure for two prisoners; more commonly the second prisoner is accommodated on mattresses in secure cells or in residential accommodation.

Overcrowding has been a growing problem for the Queensland prison system for the past five years. 

Prisoner numbers recorded in a national census each year on June 30 show a sharp increase in Queensland inmate numbers every year since 2012, despite steady numbers in the five years before.

Similar statistics released every month by the Queensland Government detail a month-by-month increase on a system that has not grown to fit the demand. 

The number of prisoners held in the state's entire adult correctional services system (including low-security) at the beginning of February was 8234 people, compared to 8210 a month earlier. A month later, at the beginning of March, prisoner numbers had again gone up, this time to 8373 people.

The March monthly figures are the latest to be released by the government and show a detailed picture of who is going to prison and the main reason why.

A total 2322 of the 8373 people held in prison on March 1 were on remand only, meaning close to one in four inmates in the state were waiting for their case to go through the courts.

Another 2042 people were serving sentences lasting one to three years. 348 people are serving life sentences.

Another 504 are in for a decade or more.  Yet another 445 are there for six months or less.

For those that have been found guilty, the range of crimes that put them in prison is extensive.

A total 247 people committed fraud as their main offence. 280 people were found with drugs in their possession. 473 committed break and enter into a dwelling. 154 breached a domestic violence order.  One breached a community service order. Two people are in prison for the relatively new charge of choking in a domestic violence setting.

One person is serving a sentence for prostitution offences and one person was sentenced for neglect of a child. 

More than one in eight (1511 people) are in prison for various types of assault.

A further 803 were charged and found guilty of occasioning actual bodily harm.

399 raped someone. 449 murdered someone. 19 possessed child pornography and 105 had indecent dealings with children under the age of 16.  A total of 61 people maintained a sexual relationship with a child. 

Among the more than 8000 prisoners, there are also 47 people classified under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act of 2003.

They are considered too dangerous to ever be truly released from the system and will likely spend the rest of their lives under supervision.

Overcrowding that leads to mixing low-risk prisoners with high-risk prisoners came to the forefront earlier this month in the findings of a coronial inquest examining the brutal murder of a young, slight, well-liked man in an exercise yard at Maryborough Correctional Centre. 

Leonard Raymond Gordon was beaten to death on October 9, 2012.  

He was a prisoner eligible for low-risk status who was convicted for breaching parole after a urine test returned positive.

By October, he could have already been released on parole if he had an appropriate address to call home.  He didn't, and therefore had to serve his full sentence.  Mr Gordon was offered the chance to move to a low-risk facility but declined so he could stay close to his family in Bundaberg. 

Helen Gordon with a portrait of her son Leonard Gordon, who was murdered at Maryborough Correctional Centre.
Helen Gordon with a portrait of her son Leonard Gordon, who was murdered at Maryborough Correctional Centre. Mike Knott

Two days before the end of his full sentence, another prisoner used a piece of metal ordinarily used to do chin-ups to smash Mr Gordon's skull.

Mr Gordon's killer, Gregory George Glebow, pleaded guilty to murder in 2014. He was already serving a life sentence for another murder at the time and was repeatedly accused of fighting and raping other prisoners. 

"There were several recorded incidents involving Mr Glebow's participation in fights with other prisoners. A prisoner had also alleged he had been raped by Mr Glebow on several occasions while he had been imprisoned with Mr Glebow at the AGCC in 2007," the coronial inquest into Mr Gordon's death said. 

The killing happened while officers were searching more than 100 cells for potential weapons. 

As the cells were searched three at a time, their occupants were sent to the exercise yard. 

Mr Gordon and his murderer ended up in the exercise yard at the same time with supervision described during the inquest as inadequate. 

"One officer was responsible for observing both units (secure units S2 and S3) at the same time, and it was not possible to observe the whole exercise yard from within the officers' station. Reliance was also placed on CCTV surveillance," the findings said. 

"The initial CSIU investigation concluded that Mr Glebow probably killed Mr Gordon to avoid being transferred from S2 to S4. It was believed at that time that Mr Glebow received threats from another prisoner in relation to a number of sexual assaults by Mr Glebow on other prisoners."

In his conclusions, State Coroner Terry Ryan said Mr Gordon's death might have been prevented had there been more supervision or if the loose exercise equipment had been removed from the yard. 

"It is less than ideal for a slightly built and young nonviolent prisoner like Mr Gordon to be accommodated in the same unit as a prisoner with a known history and potential for violence like Mr Glebow, who was free to associate with all other prisoners within the unit."

Prisoners are sharing cells with increasing frequency.


"Mr Gordon's family submitted (to the inquest) that he should have been moved to another protection unit within MCC or to another low security facility. However, it is clear that he did not want to be relocated from MCC and had not applied to be moved to another protection unit. Having regard to his short sentence, he appeared happy to remain in Unit S2 until he was eligible for unsupervised release into the community.

"It was also clear from that evidence that the options in relation to the placement of protection prisoners within MCC were very limited at the time of Mr Gordon's death. The situation at MCC has not improved significantly since 2012, as prison numbers now exceed built capacity, and prisoners are sharing cells with increasing frequency."

Prison issue clothing and utensils at the high-security Maryborough Correctional Centre.
Prison issue clothing and utensils at the high-security Maryborough Correctional Centre. Alistair Brightman

In the same week Mr Ryan released his findings, the Queensland Government announced MCC would get another six correctional officers. The centre is still over capacity, with 632 prisoners housed in cells built to hold 500 as of Friday. 

Maryborough MP Bruce Saunders told the Fraser Coast Chronicle that ultimately, the government wanted to reduce the number of inmates back to the capacity the centre was built for. 

"Until then, we need to work on getting more staff," he said. 

But the Opposition's shadow corrective services minister Tim Mander said the new officers didn't deserve to work in such a volatile environment. 

He cited figures from the first half of 2016 that showed assaults on prison staff had increased by 90% compared to the first half of 2015. 

It was in 2012 in the first year of the former LNP Government that Queensland's prisoner numbers first began to rise. 

Prisoner numbers had remained at or below 5600 in the five years before 2012. 

By November 2012, there were 6432 inmates in the system according to figures released to the media

Numbers dropped briefly, falling to 6076 by June 30, 2013.

But prisoner numbers have now increased every year for the past five years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics prison census.

In 2014, then attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie announced prisoners would "double bunk" in prisons as they reached capacity although the use of mattresses on the floor had already been in place for more than a year. 

"I take the view that I don't care if prisoners are double bunked, and if it's uncomfortable for the prisoner. It happens everywhere else." he told the Queensland Times in April 2014. 

There are current plans to increase the capacity in high-security facilities.

QCS told News Regional Media the Labor government had allocated $200 million to add 164 beds to Capricornia Correctional Centre. 

It has also allocated $1 million to develop a business case to expand Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre by 328 cells and to revise the business case into the proposed major stage 2 expansion of Southern Queensland Correctional Centre. 

"Other options to address overcrowding in Queensland's correctional system, including the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre, will continue to be examined by Government," a QCS spokesperson said. 

The QCS spokesperson also said its re-entry services to help ease prisoners back into life in the community had been boosted twice in this financial year. 

That included $1 million each year for a specialist women's re-entry service in south-east Queensland and the implementation of the Queensland Parole System Review.

The review made a number of recommendations in its final report, delivered to the government last November.  The report shows QCS's own concerns about the inability to manage risk in the overburdened system. 

"QCS have submitted that as prisoner numbers continue to increase above the capacity of the system, the risks, including loss of discipline and control in correctional centres, increasing assaults, a deterioration in staff safety and, potentially, riots, will increase too. Risks relating to fire safety and plumbing failure also increase. Prisoners and corrections staff are endangered," the report said. 

The QCS spokesperson said the government was investing in major reforms in response to the recommendations in the report. 

"The government is investing an additional $265 million over six years to expand and improve rehabilitation, case management, drug and alcohol and mental health treatment services and re-entry services," the spokesperson said.

QCS will also appoint new staff to the Probation and Parole Service to cater for the increasing number of offenders. 

"This is significant reform that will result in the greatest change to corrective services in over 20 years," the spokesperson said. 

"These initiatives will increase employability and support safe resettlement into the community. It is these efforts that reduce risk to the community and reduce prisoner numbers through a reduction in re-offending." 

Unlike the high-security centres, Queensland's low-security facilities are generally under capacity. 

Helana Jones Correctional Centre can house 29 women. As of Friday it had 18 women. 

The farm attached to the high-security Capricornia Correctional Centre, where a prisoner escaped from in February, has a capacity for 96 people. It had 77 inmates onsite as of Friday. 

The similar farm at Lotus Glen can hold 124 inmates and had 114 on Friday. 

The only low-security facility close to capacity was the female farm attached to Townsville Correctional Centre, which was built for 36 inmates. On Friday, it accommodated 35 people. 

The table released by Queensland Corrective Services showing inmate numbers at facilities across Queensland on March 10.
The table released by Queensland Corrective Services showing inmate numbers at facilities across Queensland on March 10. Queensland Corrective Services