Prison overcrowding and staff shortages a ‘time bomb’
A BITING incident at a Far Northern prison has brought into focus serious concerns about understaffing and overcrowding of an inmate population on the verge of "rioting".
A prison officer working at the Lotus Glen Correctional Centre will undergo testing for bloodborne diseases after being bitten on the hand during breakfast on Sunday.
Together Union representative John Stack said the inmate was a known troublemaker.
"At least two staff were bitten by this chap. He was isolated due to his elevated behaviour and was upset with breakfast," he said.
The union official said problems at the jail with overcrowding and staff shortages had led to suspensions of inmate programs, which consequently caused greater levels of anger and resentment among the prisoner population.
"We are in a spot of bother. You could see a crisis happening during these types of periods and you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
"We have been behind the eight ball, and when you don't have prisoners out exercising, playing sports and being involved in programs, it leads to other problems."
According to one inmate's father, "torturous" lockdowns were a "ticking time bomb" waiting to go off.
Robert Wells said his son reported being locked down for 24-hours a day every second day and unable to participate in work programs.
"It's all well and good to put people in jail, but not to torture them - they are going off their nut," he said.
Mr Wells said his son was released from his cell between 7am and 12pm once every 48 hours following corrective service officers leaving the job.
The Cooktown truck driver said he expected inmate tension to come to a head.
"I can see riots brewing. You can't treat people like that without something happening. It's like a time bomb waiting to go off," he said.
Mr Wells said keeping prisoners in their cells was a way of managing the population with fewer guards.
"You need the manpower to do the job properly. There is not enough people there for the safety of the screws," he said.
The Together Union had lobbied the Queensland Department of Corrections for more staff and there had been a recruitment drive, but boots on the ground had not arrived.
HEFTY PENALTY FOR AGGRAVATED OFFENCES
A Corrections spokesman said the officer bitten on Sunday was treated at the scene and would attend hospital for testing.
"The prisoner then reopened an injury from a recent self-harm incident, causing considerable bleeding," he said.
New legislation passed by parliament in July increased the maximum penalty for serious assault on a corrective services officer with aggravating circumstances in line with assaulting a police officer and other frontline service officers.
Aggravating circumstances include biting, spitting and throwing bodily materials, and the offence now carries a maximum penalty of 14-years.
Queensland Corrective Services is a frontline public safety agency and our officers interact with the most challenging and complex people in our society to ensure the safety and security of the community.
"Officer safety is Queensland Corrective Services' absolute priority. Every officer deserves to go home safely at the end of shift," the spokesman said.
A CORRECTIONS spokesman said the officer was treated at the scene and would attend hospital for testing.
"The prisoner then reopened an injury from a recent self-harm incident, causing considerable bleeding," he said. New laws now mean aggravated offences such as biting, spitting and throwing bodily materials now carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.