What’s it like to be in prison?

In 2017, Adam Paul Davidson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years imprisonment for pouring boiling water over Brett Peter Cowan when both men were prisoners at the Wolston Correctional Centre in 2016. Many of you will remember that Cowan was the man who was in 2014 convicted of the murder of Daniel Morcombe, the 13-year-old school-boy who disappeared from the Sunshine Coast, QLD, in 2003.  

Shortly after pouring the boiling water on Cowan, Davidson told a prison guard that he felt like he had to do it for Morcombe and that he was seeking revenge for Morcombe’s murder. At the sentencing, the judge said that Cowan deserved to be treated with respect behind bars and that everyone is a precious human being. The judge also said that Cowan should serve his sentence for as long as it lasts and that his punishment for his offences was being imprisoned. His time should be carried out without him being subjected to physical, mental or other abuse.

A very common question that we get asked is what is the prison environment like? Do prisoners have any rights or protection or are they completely lawless places like the prisons in South America and other parts of the world?

The major prisons in Brisbane and surrounds

In Brisbane, most of the major prisons are all situated in Wacol. All within a few minutes drive of each other are the Arthur Gorrie, Wolston, Brisbane and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centres. The other major prisons that house people who are sentenced around Brisbane are the Borallan Correctional Centre near Ipswich and the Woodford Correctional Centre in Woodford. 

The Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre is known as a ‘remand’ centre. That means that it only holds people who are awaiting trial (and therefore not yet been sentenced) but were refused bail. After a person has been found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, they will be taken from Arthur Gorrie to one of the other prisons. In deciding which prison they will be transferred to the Department of Corrective Services will look at a range of factors, including availability at a prison, the type of crime a prisoner has been sentenced for and how dangerous the prisoner is. 

The different units within each prison

Within each of the prisons, there are also special separate units. For example, at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, there is the ‘Maximum Security Unit’ (MSU) that holds the most dangerous and violent prisoners, the ‘Protection Unit’ that holds protection prisoners who need protection because they are at risk of being attacked by other prisoners and the ‘Detention Unit’ (DU) that holds prisoners who have been misbehaving by fighting, being aggressive or damaging property.  

The DU is seen as a form of punishment and conditions here seem to be extremely harsh.  A prisoner in the DU is only allowed out of their cell for one hour per day and has reduced visitation and purchasing rights. The conditions in the DU are seen to be so harsh that one judge has commented that every day in the DU is equivalent to three days in a regular prison. 

What are prison buildings like?

The prisons in Brisbane don’t look like the ones that people will often see on TV and movies.  There are no metal bars anywhere. Instead, there are extremely thick metal doors with extremely thick Perspex windows. Some doors can weigh as much as 160 kilograms which is why they can be very dangerous and sometimes actually used as a weapon (by slamming them shut on another prisoner). 

There will often be a few prisoners to each cell with each cell containing a single toilet. In order to reduce the risk of items being hidden, there is virtually no furniture in the cells. In the dining areas, the tables and chairs are specially made and are all welded together to form a single piece and then bolted to the floor. 

What do prisoners do to pass time?

Prisoners have access to TVs, radios and can also purchase additional things like books. There is no money in prison but instead, each prisoner will have an account similar to a savings account that their friends and family can deposit money into. 

To pass time there are outdoor exercise yards where the prisoners are able to mingle or engage in physical exercise or activities. Prisoners are also able to work, such as cooking and cleaning, although the pay is extremely low. The prisoners don’t work to earn money but do it so that they can pass the time quicker or to demonstrate good behaviour in the hope of an early release.

While the prisons that we have here in Australia are generally very good when compared to other prisons around the world, we’re sure most people will agree that it is much better to be outside a prison than inside one.

If you’re needing assistance with legal matters or understanding your legal rights (particularly in relation to criminal offences) Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

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