Nestled on the grounds of the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, is a ward known as the Princess Alexandra Hospital Secure Unit (PAHSU), specifically for Queensland prisoners (both men and women) requiring general hospitalisation and treatment. Staffed by a small team of correctional officers, this ward looks after prisoners from all over southern Queensland and beyond when extended stays are needed. Nola, a member of staff for 15 years, tells us about the work of a PAHSU officer, shedding light on some of her daily responsibilities and her unique perspective of the job.
I’m part of the Escort and Security Branch (ESB) team which comprises a range of staff. We’re a tight team, we understand that each of us bring different strengths to the job, and we work with that. The staff cover the following areas within the unit: inpatients; outpatients; foyer; control room; utilities and hospital escorts.
We help ensure that medical treatment is received in a safe and secure way for medical staff and prisoners from all over Queensland.
As a woman I believe I have a lot to offer in this role. I think women bring an ability to sense the behaviours of prisoners, particularly when agitation is building, in order to diffuse problems before they happen. We deal with a lot of mental health issues with prisoners though, and sometimes no amount of rational talking can circumnavigate the risk of violence erupting; but working as a team keeps us all safe.
I really enjoy working with the medical staff; I have a lot of respect for them and the responsibility we have to ensure their safety is a huge part of our role.
I enjoy the diversity of the role and the movement around the hospital during my shift. It has a very different feel to prisons. Our work is very hands-on; we work closely with the medical staff and prisoners.
We escort prisoners to the surgery when necessary and have to gown-up when we take them in. We stay put until they are under anaesthetic, provide external security and are in recovery when they wake up. When we have a high profile prisoner, we have to consider the safety needs of the public within the hospital and for this reason the surgery times are never released until they are ready to go. The security is very organised, interfaced with police and we are trained to manage complex situations.
I started out working in retail security. I then followed a friend into working in the ESB Courts Unit before starting here, where I’ve been for the last 15 years. I love my current role and compared to working in the public space, I find there are fewer unknowns—you have a greater sense of who people are and what risks and behaviours need to be managed.
The shifts are 12 hours long but there is a great balance of days on and off which really allows for a good work/life balance.
I’ve had great training for the job, but I think being a mother has equipped me with the skills I use most in this role. I have a strong sense of compassion and I know that the people I work with could be anyone’s child.