Last updated 2 September 2019
There is no restriction on the number of letters a person in prison may send or receive, except that all postage costs are usually met by the incarcerated person from the funds in their trust account. If the general manager is satisfied that the incarcerated person does not have enough money to pay postage costs, Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) may pay the postage costs for two letters per week sent by the person (s 44 Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld)) (Corrective Services Act).
A prison officer authorised by QCS has the power to open, read and censor ordinary mail sent to or from a prison. A correctional officer can seize ordinary mail to stop anything that poses a risk to the security or good order of the prison, or anything that appears to be intended for the commission of an offence or where a prohibited thing is suspected of entering or leaving the prison (ss 45, 46, 48 Corrective Services Act).
Privileged mail is mail sent to or received by specified government officials and agencies including the ombudsman, the minister, members of the Legislative Assembly, the Queensland Parole Board secretariat, police officers, official visitors and a person’s lawyer. A person in prison must, if practicable, send their privileged mail in blue envelopes provided at the facility to help identify it as privileged mail.
Prison officers are authorised to open and search privileged mail only if they reasonably suspect that it contains a prohibited thing or something that may physically harm the person to whom it is addressed, or that it is not privileged mail. Privileged mail that is opened should not be read by any officer, and if an officer does read anything in the mail, the contents must not be disclosed to anyone. The opening and search must be in the prisoner’s presence.
If a search of privileged mail reveals information about the commission of an offence (other than the offence for which the person is being detained) then the mail can be seized.
Telephone calls from prison are subject to monitoring and recording. People in prison can request telephone numbers (e.g. family members, friends and legal representatives) be placed on their approved list of recipients. Following a basic security check, the person is then able to access those approved recipients by telephone whenever they can gain access to the communal public phone in their unit or yard, provided they have the funds in their telephone account to meet the cost of the call. Call times are restricted depending on the prison. It is an offence for a prisoner to knowingly allow an approved number to be diverted to a non-approved number (s 50 Corrective Services Act).
The Prisoners’ Legal Service Telephone Advice Line may be accessed at the advertised times by all incarcerated people free of charge. These calls are not monitored or recorded.
A number of other agencies have a free phone line that prisoners can access including Legal Aid Queensland, the Queensland Ombudsman, the State Penalties Enforcement Registry and the Child Support Agency.
People who need to make an urgent call to a number that is not listed on their approved list can make a request through an officer or counsellor for the call to be placed.
Calls to incarcerated people from the outside will not usually be facilitated unless there has been a family or other emergency.
All prisons in Queensland have some level of employment for people in prison. This may be work designed to maintain the prison itself such as work in the prison laundry, kitchen or as a unit cleaner. Employment prison industries are another option, which include metal, leather and wood-working workshops.
Prison employment is an area fraught with injustices as compared with the industrial protections and opportunities available to workers in the wider community. Pay structures are based on minimal payments determined by QCS procedure and do not truly reflect the hours of work or the level of skill exercised by prison workers. Unlike employed workers in the community, incarcerated people are not protected by industrial laws.
Some prison jobs can provide an opportunity to work with trade instructors and to learn skills that can be used on the outside. Educational and training modules for trades are available for some incarcerated people (e.g. TAFE colleges), however, it is usually not possible for a person to undertake a trade apprenticeship in prison.
There is no power to compel a prisoner to work, but most prisoners (especially those doing long terms) choose to work so as to earn money to pay for telephone calls and personal items. A person’s willingness to work is also factored into considerations about their progress through the prison system, and it is likely to continue to affect their chances of being released on parole by a parole board. Prisoners who are willing to work, but there is no job available or they have a disability, are entitled to a small unemployment allowance.
Prisoner trust accounts
Cash is a prohibited article in prison, as are bank cards or credit cards. All prisoner funds are held in a prisoner trust account, and all transactions are paper only and must be authorised by the prisoner’s signature.
Family or friends of a prisoner may deposit money to the trust account, and all payment for work or amenities allowances received by the person are credited to their trust account. The person can then authorise transfers to their telephone card or payments for items purchased from the prison store. A prisoner can also request in writing that a trust account cheque be sent out to a third party (e.g. a family member or legal representative). The QCS can limit the amount of money deposited or sent out (ch 6 pt 11 div 1 Corrective Services Act).
Health and medical
Incarcerated people in Australia lose their entitlement to free health care through the Medicare system when they are imprisoned.
The provision of medical services in Queensland prisons is the responsibility of Queensland Health. At least one doctor (a visiting medical officer) is appointed for each prison.
There is also a secure unit staffed by officers of QCS at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, and some northern and regional prisons have arrangements with other local hospitals for the examination and treatment of incarcerated people who require specialist medical staff and/or hospital accommodation. Each prison also engages visiting dentists.
Prisoners’ rights to refuse medical examinations are limited by the Corrective Services Act and, in some instances, examination is required:
- for the classification of a prisoner
- for initial placement of the prisoner
- when making a decision to transfer a prisoner
- to assess a prisoner’s suitability to participate in an approved program
- to assess the prisoner’s suitability for leave of absence, early discharge or release (s 21(3) Corrective Services Act).
A person on a continuing detention order must submit to examinations by psychiatrists as required under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 (Qld).
Doctors have wide powers under the Corrective Services Act such as to:
- take a sample of a prisoner’s blood or another bodily substance
- order a prisoner to provide a sample of the prisoner’s urine or any other bodily substance and give the prisoner directions about the way in which the sample is to be provided (s 21(5) Corrective Services Act).
A person in prison must comply with an order or direction in relation to providing either of these types of samples. If the person does not submit to an examination or treatment, the doctor or anyone acting at the doctor’s direction may use the force that is necessary to complete the examination or treatment (s 21(8) Corrective Services Act).
Doctors assigned to treat incarcerated people may also be required to conduct internal body cavity searches.
Incarcerated people can apply in writing to QCS to be examined or treated by a doctor or psychologist nominated by the person. The QCS may approve a request if the person can afford to pay for it and if the request is not considered frivolous or vexatious (s 22 Corrective Services Act).
A common difficulty for incarcerated people is access to regular medication. Some over-the-counter medications commonly used in the community, such as codeine and pseudoephedrine, may be considered prohibited substances. Some prescribed medications may be crushed to a powder by prison nursing staff in order to prevent trafficking in medication, especially sedatives and anti-depressants.
Complaints about prison health and medical services should first be taken up with Queensland Health staff. If the complaint is unable to be resolved by this method, a formal complaint about the health practitioner involved may be directed to the Office of the Health Ombudsman.
Queensland Corrective Services procedure provides for limited access to education in prison. There are a small number of full-time student positions in some prisons and laptops are provided. Any costs associated with education (e.g. course fees and textbooks) must be met by the student.