Jailed women fear cell move

by Chris Griffith
Published 19 May 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Brisbane's Watchhouse could be used as an overflow facility for the overcrowded Brisbane Women's Prison, civil libertarians warned yesterday.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Ian Dearden said Police Minister Russell Cooper's action in February to end overcrowding of male prisoners in the watchhouse had created a relatively empty facility which could be used to accommodate women.

Mr Dearden supported Brisbane solicitor Peter Russo, who said the Brisbane Women's Prison had refused to accommodate a female client, who was held in the watchhouse for four days as a result.

"This is a new development. Previously women in custody facing court were regularly housed in the women's prison," he said. At most, they were in the watchhouse overnight."

Two weeks ago, The Sunday Mail reported the women's prison held 112 prisoners, 40 beyond its optimal capacity of 82. Women had been forced to sleep on matresses on the floor.

Corrective Services Commission deputy director general Stan Mascionis confirmed that a recent surge in female prisoner numbers had caused the commission to place a "a couple of" women prisoners in the watchhouse.

Inquiries last week by The Sunday Mail confirmed that three women were held there one for four days.

The officer-in-charge of the Brisbane Watchhouse, Inspector Robert Dallow, confirmed that for the first time in three years, women had been held in the watchhouse for more than overnight stays.

But Mr Mascionis promised this situation would not happen again. "We had a policy meeting this week and we'll be continuing to double up in the Brisbane Women's Prison. We won't be holding women in the watchhouse for longer than 24 hours."

He said the problem had occurred because the female prisoner population had jumped from 65 in Febrary to 114 this week.

Insp Dallow said the watchhouse's female accommodation had been adequate -- the women were housed in separate cells, used separate shower facilities, and were supervised by female officers. He said since the Government's clear-out of prisoners in February, an average of only eight prisoners daily had been housed in the watchhouse's 30 corrective services cells.

Mr Dearden said the Brisbane watchhouse was unsuitable for incarcerating women "who had greater hygiene and privacy needs" than men. "It is singularly unsuitable for anything other than overnight stays."

In February Mr Cooper ordered that no prisoners were to be kept in watchhouses for more than seven days, a move which saw 75 watchhouse prisoners cleared into jails.

The State Government has promised to replace the women's jail with a 150-cell facility on Brisbane's outskirts by 1998.

Mr Mascionis said a 20-bed women's annexe at Numinbah in the Gold Coast hinterland should be operating by year's end, subject to funding in the State Budget.

by Chris Griffith