Huge shifts, low pay: Price of guarding Qld’s 10,000 inmates
Fatigued prison officers have been working 18-hour shifts and sleeping in their cars to keep up with a soaring inmate population nearing 10,000 criminals in Queensland.
Ballooning by 1053 prisoners since June last year, the state's jails now house 9614 people in 7484 cells.
Bunk beds have been rolled out to jails but inmates at some centres are sleeping on mattresses on floors in "doubled up" cells.
At Brisbane Correctional Centre there was 939 inmates late last month - 379 above the built cell number and 170 above bed numbers - with prisoners sleeping on the ground on mattresses and jail units overcrowded.
Officers working at the jail have been sleeping in their cars after 18-hour shifts.
"There is not enough staff for the number of prisoners," an officer told The Courier-Mail.
"Staff sleep in the car because they are doing so much overtime and 18-hour shifts are becoming normal. "Safety is a concern."
When asked about safety concerns a Queensland Corrective Services spokeswoman said: "Officer safety is always our absolute priority, which is why we have to balance officer fatigue and ensuring safe staffing levels until such time as the staffing group can be boosted by new and transferred officers."
The spokeswoman said the rapid increase in prisoners was in part due to COVID-19 restrictions easing in the courts, which also affected the inmate numbers at Brisbane Correctional Centre.
The jail had more prisoners because it was a transitional centre and inmates stayed for short periods before being transferred to other jails.
The spokeswoman said officers had been offered longer shifts and overtime because of the prisoner increase.
Staff from other centres had also been asked to help.
"The staffing group has responded admirably to the short term measures, with many officers agreeing to work additional hours to ensure a safe staffing level at the centre," she said.
"Officers who are fatigued following their shift or who will not have a 10-hour break between shifts are offered and encouraged to take advantage of taxi charges to get home and return to work for their next shift.
"Longer term, QCS has an extensive recruitment campaign under way for custodial correctional officers across the state, with almost immediate start available for some regional centres."
Capricornia jail was being expanded and plans for a new 1004-bed men's prison at Gatton were under way.
It's understood that once the issue of officers sleeping in cars was raised human resources staff were ordered to ensure staff stopped sleeping in cars and took fatigue breaks of 10 hours.
Together Union industrial services director Michael Thomas said staff were fatigued, over worked and stressed.
"We are extremely concerned at the level of overcrowding that exists in every male centre across the state," he said.
"The sooner we can get the new prison built out at southern Queensland the better."
It was difficult to recruit staff because on top of the fact the job was "dangerous and stressful", officers were also "woefully underpaid because of the government's failure to reach terms on wage conditions".
"They are lowest paid in the country, their starting annual base salary is under $50,000 a year," he said.
"The average would be paid less than $60,000."
Originally published as Huge shifts, low pay: Price of guarding Qld's 10,000 inmates