Pandemic: Visits to Queensland prisons cease

Queensland Corrective Services has put significant planning in place to ensure business continuity and ensure the security of our prisons, the safety of our officers and the wellbeing of the people in our care.

We know this pandemic will play out over many months, not weeks, and our decisions need to be considered in light of the ongoing impact this will have on our workforce and the ongoing safety and security of our prisons.

Our decisions need to be timely, but also sustainable for a period of potentially up to six months, and we are keenly aware that these measures actually have the potential to make prisons less safe for our officers and prisoners, as played out in prison protests and demonstrations in other countries.

We are adopting a staged approach to implementing restrictions on access to our prisons, with Stage 1 implemented two weeks ago.

We are now implementing Stage 2 restrictions, which will see all personal visits to our centres cease today, Monday, March 23, in line with the latest health advice on social distancing and gatherings as recommended by the Chief Medical Officer at this time.

All other visits, including legal, service provider or official visits will be conducted in accordance with advice from the Chief Health Officer, particularly with regards to social distancing.

Today I signed a Direction under section 157(1A) of the Corrective Services Act 2006, suspending access approvals for all personal visits (until further notification) for a period up to one year.

This Direction takes into account a Direction signed by the Chief Health Officer under section 362B of the Public Health Act 2005, prohibiting any corrective services officer from allowing personal visitors into a corrective services facility.

This step is being taken to protect the health of our officers and the people in our care, and taking into account the limitations of our built environment.

We recognise that this will have an impact on prisoners and their families, and we are looking at ways to provide other contact – increased access to telephones, and the use of video and other technology.

As this pandemic progresses, we are poised to move to Stage 3 restrictions, which will see all visits, including from legal representatives cease, but daily activities, including industries, education and out of cell time continue to the greatest extent possible. My hope is that we are many weeks away from implementing this Stage, but we will be guided by the advice of the health experts.

Finally, if and when necessary, we are prepared to adopt Stage 4 restrictions, and fully lockdown prisons, ceasing non-essential out of cell time and movements within the prisons, to allow us to operate the prisons on a dramatically reduced staffing group. This is obviously a last resort, but we are prepared for the eventuality.

In the meantime, we are working closely with our stakeholders – the Courts, Queensland Health, partner agencies and our suppliers to work through issues as they arise as a part of the pandemic response to ensure we continue to the greatest extent to maintain business as usual, ensure uninterrupted supply of food and other essentials.

We are using an evidence-based approach on deciding the timing of each of these steps, and realise that the timing is dependent on a wide range of factors. This is a highly dynamic situation, and advice is changing rapidly.

Peter Martin APM
Commissioner Queensland Corrective Services