Jail ‘very volatile’ as new COVID restrictions start
PRISON officers say it is still "very volatile" inside Arthur Gorrie jail after 10 prisoners took to the rooftop to protest COVID-19 restrictions which have banned family and friends from visiting.
As tension escalates at the jail, further measures have been introduced statewide at prisons to stop the spread of coronavirus.
United Workers Union spokesman Godfrey Moase said officers were continuing to work through the crisis but were working in a system that is straining as COVID-19 restrictions "create lockdown situations".
Two separate groups of prisoners took to the rooftop this week to protest the visitation restrictions, along with the quality of food at the jail and perceived lack of access to doctors.
The jail was locked down as a result and the prisoners eventually came down last night.
"There is now a total lockdown in place which creates significantly more workload for staff," Mr Moase said of the situation.
"The prisoners are now off the roof, but the situation is still very volatile inside.
"Correctional officers need to be alert when opening cells for medication and other routine duties.
"During this time, the union has been fiercely advocating to ensure our members' safety and access to entitlements in regards to personal protective equipment, opportunity for testing, and appropriate isolation in the current environment.
QCS Commissioner Peter Martin today announced additional measures in Queensland with all prisoners entering jails now required to be placed into isolation for 14 days.
Prisoners about to be released into the community will all undergo temperature checks.
Mr Martin said QCS needed to take "every step possible" to prevent COVID-19 entering Queensland prisons.
"To limit the risk of a prisoner with COVID-19 being received into the secure custody environment, reception prisoners and transfer prisoners will now be subject to isolation and monitoring for a period of 14 days,", Commissioner Martin said.
"During the isolation period, prisoners will be confined to a cell, with no engagement with other prisoners or out of cell time. Interactions with officers and health staff will be carefully managed to try to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 which would put the lives of our officers and prisoners at risk."
Prisoners will then be placed into the general prisoner population. Jail transfers will also be restricted.
Five prison officers have now tested positive to coronavirus with 78 staff self-isolating as a precaution.
"Of these, only one attended a workplace while they were contagious," the spokesman said.
Wolston jail was locked down two weeks ago when an officer tested positive to coronavirus after he let a holidaying colleague, who had just returned from the highly-infected Ruby Princess cruise, borrow a trailer.
The officer is understood to have worked three 12-hour shifts after lending the trailer to his colleague.
The realisation was made by authorities after the holidaying colleague tested positive and authorities traced who he had been in contact with.
The measures come as 400 legal professionals including retired judges have sent a second letter to the Australian Attorneys-General and Corrections Ministers calling on them to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system, especially prisons and youth detention centres.
It calls for five measures.
"1. Programs of testing, diagnosis and public health measures (including the provision of personal protective equipment) to be immediately implemented in all prisons and Youth Detention Centes (YDC)," the letter says.
"2. Hospitalisation/urgent medical treatment of any person in prison or YDC (or police custody) who has COVID-19 symptoms. Families and ATSILS/Custody Notification Service (CNS) to be immediately notified of the symptoms, hospitalisation and treatment.
"3. Ongoing and publicly available information on the COVID-19 testing, diagnosis and public health measures in prisons and YDC (without compromising private health information). This should particularly be made available to people in prison, their families, lawyers and the courts (to enable informed bail and sentencing decisions).
"4. Independent monitoring by health and criminal justice experts of COVID-19 responses across prisons and YDC.
"5. The current information is that there is a risk to life and health in prisons and YDC, which in turn creates risks for the wider community. This requires every State and Territory to legislate for immediate release, where it is safe to do so. Priorities for release should be:
"a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - consistently identified as one of the most vulnerable groups.
b. The vulnerable, including the elderly; peoples who are victims of domestic violence, coercive control and human trafficking; and those with additional health issues such as immunosuppression, respiratory illness and hypertension, addiction and/or mental health.
e. Those serving sentences of less than 6 months or with 6 months or less remaining.
f. Unsentenced people in prison."
Originally published as Jail 'very volatile' as new COVID restrictions start