Ofaira’s busy academic, work and life experiences will make this double-degree QUT student a rising star in her chosen profession. In her third-year of a Bachelor of Justice and Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology) degree, Ofaira is keen to lead by example, showing there’s much more to being Samoan than playing rugby. Over two-days, Ofaira’s Justice Journey was spent with the Chief Inspector of Prisons and visiting Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre.
For two days during Law Week, I had the privilege of job shadowing Samay Zhouand and Nicole Meakins from the Office of the Chief Inspector, a branch of Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) in the Department of Justice and Attorney General (DJAG). The Office has been designed to maintain transparency and accountability in Queensland’s adult correctional system.
The first part of my Justice Journey began 10am sharp on a cold autumn morning. I was escorted up to level 22 of the State Law Building in the Brisbane CBD and it was here, that I was able to meet Samay Zhouand, the Chief Inspector himself. Samay showed me around his office, before we sat down to get ready for the interview that I had prepared.
I began with questions regarding his personal justice journey in the lead up to his current role as Chief Inspector. To my surprise, I learnt Samay hadn’t always worked in the field, and that he was actually a McDonald’s restaurant manager for a good part of his early working life. He says it was a great organisation and he loved professional training, but his urge to make a greater contribution to society, sparked his journey down the Human Services/Law pathway. Following his newfound dream, he decided to attend Southern Cross University, where he completed a double degree in Law and Arts, majoring in Sociology and Psychology.
For the next eight years, upon completion of his degree, Samay worked various legal roles in different government departments. Towards the end, he felt he needed a new challenge and in 2011 when the Chief Inspector (at the time) moved up to the Ombudsman Office, Samay was asked by the Chief Executive to consider undertaking the role.
When making the final decision to take the opportunity, Samay says there were two important elements he considered – first, was his ability to make a contribution within the role, and second, was his ability to perform a role that was largely independent.
We discussed his job in further detail and he explained essentially, the four main legislative duties of his office is to carry out inspections, conduct investigations of serious incidents, undertake reviews of the correctional system and to co-ordinate the Official Visitors Scheme, which is very capably assisted by Nicole Meakins.
The second part of my Justice Journey was both exciting and nerve-racking. We were going to a prison! The Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre in Wacol, to be precise. I had never seen or been inside a real life prison before, and this experience was truly amazing. Nicole, the State Co-ordinator of Official Visitors here in Queensland, met me in the visitor’s centre where I grabbed my visitor’s pass, took my photo and scanned my fingerprint through the system. Then we walked through the gatehouse, where there were two security doors. The first was a rotating metal detector and then the second, was a finger recognition system that only allowed you to step through once your details had been verified.
Once we were in, Nicole took us on a brief tour of the centre, before we went to the Staff Trainer named Jan, who helped us with our induction into the centre. She told us of all the colour codes the officers use to communicate, differing from well-known codes like “officer in trouble” to more unusual ones such as “prisoner on the roof”. Jan then took us on a more in-depth tour of the centre where we were able to see all the units – Protection, Secure, Residential and the Parental Support unit – and we even got to meet some prisoners along the way.
Next, I was able to sit in and observe some inspections conducted by a Legal Official Visitor named Justin Barker. Justin conducted two different types of interviews – the first type, were interviews with women who were managed on Safety Order conditions and then on the flip side, Justin also interviewed women who had issues or wanted to voice some concerns about the way they’re being treated through the system. It was truly amazing to see both sides of the spectrum and know that all of the ladies interviewed, were treated the same - with fairness and respect - a basic human right, usually thought to be forgotten in regards to prisoners. Nicole reminded me at the end of the session that prisoners are just like anyone else, and that their job as restorative justice workers is to provide the best conditions for the individual to succeed in the community. This is not done by looking down on or judging prisoners or stripping them of their basic human rights. She also notes that, when we try our best to give all we can to the prisoners, it makes the corrections system a better and safer place to work.
I would like to thank Samay Zhouand, Nicole Meakins and Justin Barker for sharing their time with me and opening up a world that I had only read or talked about before. I am also so grateful to DJAG for this opportunity, and would truly like to thank all justice workers for fighting the good fight, and making such crucial but necessary contributions to better our system for the people of tomorrow.