Overcrowding at Far Northern prison leads to deaths in custody fear

Posted on November 17, 2011


Melanie Petrinec

Thursday, November 3, 2011

© The Cairns Post

A SENIOR indigenous affairs advocate says the Cairns watch-house is being used as an “annex” for the Far North’s overflowing prison, breaching recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service chief executive Shane Duffy believes more than 40 watch-house prisoners face waits of up to three weeks to be transferred, with Lotus Glen Correctional Centre at capacity.

Mr Duffy has written a letter to Corrective Services Minster Neil Roberts, obtained by The Cairns Post, raising concerns the situation could lead to more deaths in custody.

It comes after The Cairns Post revealed last month the Mareeba prison was full with 438 high-security prisoners, and inmates were reluctant to travel to Cairns for court dates out of fear they would lose their beds.

Mr Duffy told Mr Roberts the situation in the Far North – where more than 70 per cent of prisoners are indigenous – flew in the face of recommendations made after the Commission.

“The watch-house is being used by as an annex to the prison, which is full, rather than taking the expedient step of transferring prisoners to other centres,” he wrote last week.

“This is contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and must be addressed as a matter of significant urgency.

“Some of our clients have been sitting in cells for between two and three weeks … I have been informed that some are close to breaking point.

“I would hate to see another death in custody due to my concerns not being addressed.”

Two weeks ago, Queensland Corrective Services acting Commissioner Peter Bottomley said he was informed it was “rare” for prisoners to be kept in the watch-house for more than five days.

The Commission made more than 300 recommendations.

Successive state governments have been criticised for not fully implementing all the Commission’s recommendations.

Lotus Glen is the state’s only full prison.

Mr Roberts said he was aware of Mr Duffy’s letter, which was received by his office last Friday, and was obtaining the advice of police and corrective services.

Mr Duffy was unavailable for comment yesterday.