Law Week 2017 Justice Journeys

Bec, Caitlin, Fleur, Nana, and Natalie

Five tertiary students spent three days at Wolston Correctional Centre, a high security men’s prison in Brisbane.

“The centre houses many of Queensland’s highest profile and most dangerous offenders—needless to say—in an environment like this, we were all unsure how the five of us girls would fare.” Bec, Caitlin, Fleur, Nana, and Natalie spent three days in a Brisbane correctional centre as their Justice Journey.

We were placed at Wolston Correctional Centre, a high-security prison for men located west of Brisbane. We all shadowed a variety of correctional managers and supervisors.

We had mixed feelings about what we were getting ourselves into, and nerves kicked in. However, the experience was incredibly eye-opening for each of us and there were many things we observed which stuck out to us and resonated with us. Key to this, was a recurring theme that we all had a perception of what prison was like based on what the media tells us. While not all of us necessarily had previously intended on pursuing corrections as a career in the future, the experience was incredibly worthwhile, and has given us a new perspective to our studies.

Our experience started at the visitor reception area, where our information and fingerprints were entered into a biometrics system, which recorded our entry and exit details, and gave us access to the prison. It was then time to enter in to the prison…

Prisoners are managed according to the risks they pose and the opportunities they’ve earned.Prisoners are managed according to the risks they pose and the opportunities they’ve earned.

What we first found out upon meeting our mentors, was that Wolston correctional centre is an approximately 600-bed prison that is currently housing around 750 inmates.

It’s clear that additional prisoners put pressure on the whole prison. Prisoners are managed according to the risks they pose and the opportunities they’ve earned. They are given the opportunity to rehabilitate through participation in education, work, vocational training, and programs designed to address offending behaviour.

The prison has three types of accommodation in different areas: residential, secure, and detention. Each type of accommodation was very different to one another.

The residential area

There is a garden complete with a pond, bridge and goldfish—not what you would expect at a high security prison! It was explained to us that only prisoners who demonstrated good behaviour are considered for residential accommodation—it is a privilege. Each unit has six rooms, with a bed, television and desk however, due to overpopulation there are up to eight men to a unit, with the extra men sleeping on the floor of the common area. The common area in each unit has a kitchen area and a lounge area with a television, and bench seats. Toilets, showers, and a laundry are contained in each unit. In the evening, when the prisoners are locked away, only the front door of the unit is locked, so the inmates are free to move within the unit.

The secure area

With six units, each equipped for 50 men—these cells are basic with a bed, desk, toilet and shower, as well as some shelving for personal items. Each unit currently averages around 63 men, with some being doubled up and sleeping on mattresses on the floor. These units are for those inmates who are more at risk of being hurt or threatened by others, or who are a risk to others; however, all inmates start in the secure units.

The detention unit

This was the most eye-opening part of the whole experience. A purpose built area for segregation, with two powered cells and 10 unpowered cells. These are very basic, with just a bed, toilet and sink. Each cell in this block is attached to a ‘yard’ – a concrete room about two metres by two metres with a shower. Each prisoner gets an allocated amount of time to enjoy filtered sunlight in the ‘yard’. The whole vibe of this unit was very clinical.

The whole vibe of the detention unit was very clinical.

During our time in the centre, we got to experience many different activities that occur within the prison, including training for both passive alert drug detection (PADD) and general purpose (GP) dogs, breach hearings (a trial-like system where the prisoner is alleged to have breached the rules of the centre), and visits from friends and families. However, two events which stood out to us the most were parole hearings and Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) meetings.

It was really interesting to observe how a parole hearing is conducted. It was really interesting to observe how a parole hearing is conducted.

Parole hearings

It was really interesting to observe how a parole hearing is conducted. Before any offender is recommended for a parole release by the Parole Board, the panel evaluates and assesses whether they are risk to community safety if they return. The role of the Parole Panel is to make a recommendation to the General Manager, and then the Parole Board who make the final decision on whether an offender is released or not. The panel consisted of a sentence management officer, a psychologist, one senior case manager from probation and parole and one educational officer at the Wolston Correctional Centre. They assess the offender’s eligibility for parole release based on:

  • the nature of their offence
  • the likely risk of the offender committing further offences
  • whether the offender has successfully completed programs of rehabilitation
  • the institutional conduct of the offender whilst incarcerated
  • the likely risk of physical or psychological harm to a member of the community
  • behavioural reports relating to the offender.

A myriad of other factors are also taken into consideration. It was incredibly interesting to watch the process. To compare instances where prisoners had a successful hearing against the factors that impacted unsuccessful hearings for other prisoners.

Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) meetings.

We all learnt something important—the stereotypes presented of inmates within the media are not always accurate. We all learnt something important—the stereotypes presented of inmates within the media are not always accurate.

Dedication to quality of life for the inmates is demonstrated through PAC Meetings. PAC is made up of several inmates as a representative of their units, who sit at a monthly meeting with staff to discuss any issues or requests that are raised. Within the PAC Meeting, issues such as microwave use, art supplies, the purchase and use of personal radios and music players, food available for purchase, etc., were raised by the inmates. The PAC meeting proceeded in such a formal and well-spoken manner, which took us by surprise. All the inmates had a voice, and they used their voice to express the issues they and fellow inmates had. They had clear and profound arguments, and we thought it was very interesting to see how a lot of prisoners considered and thought about life after prison in their points, and making suggestions to help them prepare for this. In particular, this related to electronic devices. We thought this was important, as some prisoners find it extremely hard to go back to outside, ‘normal’ life as prison life is all that they have known. The inability to adapt back to life outside prison can have serious consequences, including reoffending to go back to the life they know in prison, or suicidal thoughts and behaviours. It was evident to us was that Wolston provides opportunities for inmates to improve themselves and refocus their outlook on life once they leave prison. Through the availability of classes in education, personal development workshops, paid employment prospects, even a TAFE certificate in engineering. This helps inmates to structure their days with a positive routine and prepare them for reintegration into ‘normal’ life upon release from prison.

Most prisoners treat staff with the utmost respect as this is how officers treat them.

We all learnt something important—the stereotypes presented of inmates within the media are not always accurate.

Most prisoners treat staff with the utmost respect as this is how officers treat them—each officer knew and referred to inmates by name. Our interactions with inmates highlighted something very important which we ignorantly did not realise until this experience—people in prison are people.

This experience has definitely reaffirmed why we have chosen to study in the area of Law and Justice. Rebecca, Natalie, Fleur and Nana (Caitlin not present)This experience has definitely reaffirmed why we have chosen to study in the area of Law and Justice. Rebecca, Natalie, Fleur and Nana (Caitlin not present)

While luckily we were exposed to very good days in the prison, from stories our mentors told us, this is not always the case. Nonetheless, the media is very influential at depicting what a criminal should look like and what they should be. However, the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is very relevant, but also, ‘never judge a book by its story’ too. It is not until you share an experience like this that you are able to ‘rehumanise’ these men.

We all agree that our time at Wolston was very worthwhile. It was incredibly interesting and touching to see how the inmates live their life in prison. It is clear that the staff at Wolston do an excellent job at maintaining order, safety, and respect at the prison, and we extend our greatest thanks to them for being so accommodating and providing us with an enriching experience. This experience has definitely reaffirmed why we have chosen to study in the area of Law and Justice.