Arriving at the Maryborough Correctional Centre I was a bundle of nerves, thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ As I had my photograph and fingerprints taken, and then entered the biometric system monitoring all entries and exits, reality dawned…I’m about to enter a prison!
I expected a hostile environment based on the stories I’d seen in the media, and that any minor discrepancy would trigger an outburst of violence. However, (quite pleasantly) this wasn’t the case. Prisoners were respectful to officers, and vice-versa, and were able to freely approach officers if they had any questions. In fact, I felt comfortable in my surroundings.
It is quite shocking how the media twists an event and places negative connotations upon the prison when it isn’t an accurate representation of the prison’s actual day-to-day regime.
As I toured the prison, I learnt overcrowding is an issue. This facility has the capacity for 500 prisoners, yet currently houses 650, with many sharing cells.
Prisoners are managed based on their risk and the correctional centre is divided into three areas; Residential, Secure and the Detention Unit.
The Residential area houses prisoners demonstrating good behaviour. This area contains a gym and multi-purpose sport courts, which prisoners are free to access when they are not at work or taking part in education and programs.
The Residential area differs to the Secure blocks, which are laid out with around 50 cells per unit. There are separate areas for the kitchen and laundry, and a courtyard for prisoners to access.
The last area, the Detention Unit is intended for isolation from other prisoners.
At the prison, I spent time with the Program Delivery Officers, who work with prisoners convicted of serious assault offences.
These prisoners are encouraged to try to identify their thought processes at the time of committing their offence. The aim is to teach the prisoner an alternative thought process so he or she will react more positively if faced with a similar situation back in the community.
My observation was that most prisoners commonly have an impulse to react to certain situations with violence because it is the only way they know how to react.
The centre also offers psychology services where I observed an interview with a prisoner with suspected cognitive issues. The prisoner was given a test to complete within a set time. Although it is not an official assessment, the test will indicate if the prisoner requires further assessment and support.
I also had the opportunity to observe a numeracy and literacy class, and shadowed Sentence Management officers, who calculate the length of time a prisoner will spend in prison. The officers take into account time spent on remand, time at large, the release date if the prisoner may be released on parole, and the maximum sentence to be served.
Before spending time with the team at the Hervey Bay Probation and Parole Service (PPS) District Office, I didn’t know much about probation or parole.
In the Probation and Parole Service, case managers are responsible for managing a caseload of offenders. Offenders are subject to supervision within the community according to orders made by a court or the Parole Board Queensland. Officers within the Probation and Parole Service work every day to make our community a safer place.
I learnt that the office monitors offenders who are completing orders, in most instances requiring them to report to the PPS office at set dates during their supervision. People can also be monitored via electronic monitoring, telephone and home visits.
Ryetta with the Probation and Parole team
I was fortunate enough to sit in on an interview with a person who had been recently released from custody on an order. The person had to report to the office and discuss any personal, mental health or work-related issues. What I saw was how the case manager was able to establish a relationship of trust with the person, encouraging them to continue taking positive steps to reducing their risk of re-offending.
One point I found particularly thought-provoking is that the person isn’t the issue; it’s their behaviour. If the behaviour isn’t rectified, the person is likely to re-offend, which means that sentencing a person to serve time in prison is not necessarily the solution to the problem.
Finally, I spent time at the Magistrates Court at Hervey Bay, accompanying the probation and parole officers to witness defendants who have breached their orders to appear before the Magistrate. The Magistrate then decides if the defendant can continue under their current order, be given a harsher order, or a term of imprisonment.
It is interesting to watch the Magistrate weigh up their decision, taking into account the facts outlined by the Prosecutor, and whether the defendant pleaded guilty or not guilty.
I greatly appreciated my time at both locations. It was an enriching experience to be able to witness first-hand the life of prisoners, as well as interact with them. It is not until you experience this that you see prisoners as human beings. It was particularly touching to witness how case workers engage with people and encourage them to take positive steps.