6.3 Consultations with women in prison

Security classification


6.3.1 Transfers for medical treatment

(Transfers of open security prisoners to secure facilities for medical treatment)

An issue that gives rise to concern is the practice of the DCS in dealing with female inmates of the NCC (an open security facility) who require medical treatment. Any female prisoner requiring hospitalisation or dental treatment is required to be transferred back to the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre. Instead of remaining in low security accommodation, the women are housed in S1, one of the most secure and restrictive options within that facility. They also undergo mandatory strip–searching on arrival at BWCC. At times, transport back to Numinbah after treatment is not immediately available and the woman has to remain in S1 at BWCC for a number of days.

The ADCQ was told that a number of women at Numinbah had refused medical treatment because of their concerns about the secure area at BWCC, and compulsory strip–searching.

Returning open classification prisoners to this rigid security regime simply because they require medical treatment is a detrimental and regressive step when rehabilitation and reintegration are among the primary aims of the correctional system. It could be argued that this is direct discrimination on the basis of impairment, in that the women at Numinbah with medical or dental health issues are being treated less favourably than other women at the facility with no health issues. The women are being moved from an open prison facility to a secure prison facility, and undergoing mandatory strip–searching because of their medical condition. The ADCQ believes there are a number of alternative options that could readily be put into place to change the way these medical issues for women in the Numinbah facility are handled. Options could include sourcing medical treatment from service providers closer to the Numinbah facility, or accommodating the women at the Helana Jones facility rather than at the BWCC.

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6.3.2 Lack of facilities for women

Women prisoners in Queensland expressed strong concerns about how few options were available for them to progress through the prison system, taking into account their classification, and particularly compared to the opportunities for men.

Some of the issues raised were:

  • women serving less than two years imprisonment with low classifications may frequently serve their entire sentence in the secure facility of BWCC. Some expressed the view that women needed a dedicated open security facility for short term offenders, particularly women who were in prison for fine defaults. They referred to the Palen Creek facility for men;

  • there is a bottleneck in getting from Wacol(BWCC) to Helana Jones;

  • women are held up at Wacol as there is no where else to put them;

  • long term women prisoners were kept in secure custody in BWCC for extremely long periods, and if eventually moved to an open facility such as Numinbah, they had no opportunity to access leave of absence entitlements which would prepare them for reintegration into the community;

  • lifers are stuck for so long doing absolutely nothing;

  • the classification system doesn't apply to women; the system only has maximum and open.

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6.3.3 Types of facilities available

On Warwick Work camp, prisoners said:

  • I feel like I belong now — I can mow…whipper–snip…cook… it's like a big family, I got confidence;

  • I gained self confidence and self respect at Warwick. They need 10 more places like Warwick;

  • They could have a Warwick in the suburbs.

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6.3.4 Understanding the classification system

(Understanding the classification system and consistency in decision making about classification)

Many women expressed concerns about having difficulties in understanding the system, how it works, and the inconsistencies they felt occurred in determining classification.

Some of the matters consistently raised were:

  • the inconsistencies in the system, that policies are disjointed and being interpreted idiosyncratically depending on the officer concerned;

  • the need for a better structured system where prisoners can experience, whenever possible, a clear progression through their sentence that assists and facilitates rehabilitation;

  • the changing of the rules all the time is very demoralising;

  • you keep getting near the goalposts then the goalposts keep changing;

  • there is no consistency in sentence management;

  • nothing is explained to you, they need a better induction process at the beginning. Someone needs to explain the system to you.

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Recommendations : Custodial infrastructure and classification

Recommendation No. 1

That the Department of Corrective Services, when planning for any future custodial infrastructure for women, gives the highest priority to developing smaller facilities based upon community living, with prison regimes and practices that encourage positive and supportive interaction between staff and residents and the greater community.

Recommendation No. 2

That the Department of Corrective Services:

  • develops classification instruments based on the specific characteristics of men and women; and

  • draws up a schedule for testing the reliability and validity of classification instruments, for all prisoners including those from Indigenous or other minority groups.

The DCS should publicly release the reports of such research.

Recommendation No. 3 

That corrective services legislation states that female prisoners be classified at the lowest level of security necessary to ensure the good order and security of prisons and the security of the community.

Recommendation No.4

That proposed legislation changes ensure:

  • female prisoners on remand be classified in the same way as other female prisoners; and

  • long term remand prisoners be assessed under the Offender Risk/Needs Inventory and not be deprived of necessary programs and training.

Recommendation No. 5

That women prisoners be placed in the least restrictive environment possible and, in particular, the highest priority be given to the interests of children in determining the placement of their mothers serving full–time sentences.

Recommendation No. 6

That the Department of Corrective Services researches and analyses the elements that contribute to the success of the Warwick Women's Work Camp model and apply those principles to any new facilities that are developed for women.

Recommendation No. 7

That women residents of the Numinbah Correctional Centre who require hospital or dental treatment not be transferred and housed in the secure S1 facility in Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre, and not be subjected to mandatory strip–searching. In accessing medical or dental treatment, they should not be housed in any facility other than open classification accommodation.

Recommendation No. 8

That the Department of Corrective Services reviews its written and oral information provided to prisoners upon reception and throughout their sentence to ensure they better understand the classification and Offender Risk/Needs Inventory assessment processes, the sentence management process and other issues including conditional and community release.

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