CROWDED: Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre. Picture: Evan Morgan
CROWDED: Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre. Picture: Evan Morgan

Safety fears in packed prisons

ONE in five prisoners in Townsville's correctional centres could be sleeping on the floor as overcrowding sparks serious safety concerns from staff.

Our sister paper The Townsville Bulletin can reveal there were only 849 permanently fixed beds for the 1055 male and female prisoners across the two facilities at Stuart as of April 19.

In the Women's Centre about 63 per cent of the 249 prisoners were sleeping on temporary bedding.

Of the 689 prisoners in the high security section of the men's facility, 112 were sleeping either in temporary bunk beds or mattresses on the floor.

Together Union Townsville organiser Norm Jacobsen said prison staff were being put at risk by the overcrowding and guards were being assaulted regularly.

Mr Jacobsen said while the women's centre had the worst ratio of beds to inmates, there were more men without fixed beds.

"The men and women present different scenarios but in the end it's all about safety," he said.

"They're starting to put bunks in cells but they had been just putting mattresses on floors."

Mr Jacobsen said he believed overcrowding was having a "severe impact" on assault and incident rates in the centres.

"You've got a three-metre by two-metre cell that's got a single bed and then a mattress on the floor and those cells were only ever built to have one prisoner in them," he said.

Mr Jacobsen said overcrowding impacted the viability of the whole centre as the infrastructure was never designed to cater for the current prison population.

He said even the sewerage treatment plant was struggling to cope with demand.

"The system is in trouble," Mr Jacobsen said.

He said a new prison in Queensland was needed, potentially in the Mount Isa region, but with no plans in place such a facility would take years to establish.

"Even if (the State Government) started today a new prison wouldn't be online for three-odd years.''

A spokesman for Queensland Corrective Services said the safety and security of officers was an "absolute priority".

"We are undertaking a range of activities to alleviate (overcrowding) and ensure the safety of centres," the spokesman said.

"This includes providing a further 1000 bunks across the state and increasing staffing numbers at centres to deal with increased prisoner numbers, as well as adopting a range of management practises to improve prison safety."

A six-bedroom unit is under construction in the low security section of the women's facility and is due for completion in June.

The spokesman said a further 60 bunk beds were being installed in the high security section of the men's centre in addition to 88 temporary bunk beds.