Prisoners have served their time, but still stuck inside for Christmas

Almost 100 prison parolees in Queensland are set to spend Christmas inside the state’s overstuffed jails – at a cost of nearly $30,000 a day – because of a “complete crisis” that is affecting more than just the criminals themselves.

Dec 21, 2020, updated Dec 21, 2020
Queensland Corrective Services is on a recruitment drive to hire more than 700 new officers this financial year. Photo: ABC

Queensland Corrective Services is on a recruitment drive to hire more than 700 new officers this financial year. Photo: ABC

The 92 prisoners have been granted conditional parole — but their release is contingent on them having safe accommodation to go to once they leave the prison grounds.

Because of long social housing waiting lists, the prisoners must wait for a space to become available before they can return to society.

But Prisoners’ Legal Service director Helen Blaber said there were limits on space within jails as well.

“You’ve got people sleeping in corridors [in jails],” she said.

“People are upholding their end of the bargain, if you look at it that way, and they’re not getting released.”

It costs $27,000 a day to keep all 92 behind bars, according to the Queensland Productivity Commission

‘Quite bizarre’

The delay has “come as a shock” to prison officers, who must continue to enforce strict rules on the inmates.

Michael Thomas, of the prison officers’ Together Union, said he was surprised by the extent of the problem.

“It’s come as a shock to us and this is a concern,” Thomas said.

“The prison officers have to do their job — they can’t treat them differently from any other prisoner.”

Queensland Corrective Services was unable to say which prisons were most affected.

Thomas said keeping people in jail was adding to an already chronic overcrowding issue.

The state’s prisons are at 130 per cent capacity — an excess of about 2000 inmates.

“The issues they’re causing in terms of assaults in prison, prisoner-on-prisoner, prisoner-on-staff — to find out we’re exacerbating that by having people in prison that have been paroled seems quite bizarre,” Thomas said.

‘Crisis point’

Blaber said the State Government needed to urgently address the shortage of social housing, which she described as being at a “complete crisis point”.

“It creates more pressure on [prison] staff, more pressure on programs and more pressure on the people incarcerated,” she said.

“It’s reached a point that’s really unacceptable that so much money is being spent keeping people in an environment that’s really harmful.”

Queensland’s Department of Communities and Housing said it provided accommodation based on need and availability.

A spokesman said some properties were being used to allow people to leave group accommodation to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The Minister for Police and Corrective Services, Mark Ryan, did not answer the ABC’s questions about whether keeping the 92 inmates incarcerated was a concern.

Ryan did not comment on whether the Government had plans in place to reduce the pressure on social housing.

He said the number of inmates affected represented “a small percentage of the overall prison population”.

Blaber said almost 70 per cent of people in prison had committed non-violent crimes and had families who needed them.

“People are thinking about people in prison — they often don’t think about the families who are affected, the mothers and the sons and the daughters,” she said.

“We get a huge number of calls from families at this time of year, begging us — ‘Please, can you get him out? We should have him home by now.’”

– ABC / Owen Jacques

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