Last updated 2 September 2019
A person may be involuntarily segregated from other people in prison either for:
- punishment (separate confinement (s 121 Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) (Corrective Services Act))
- administrative purposes (safety orders or maximum security (div 5, 6 Corrective Services Act)).
Most prisons have a detention unit, which has designated punishment cells with fewer amenities used for shorter punishment stays, and/or a crisis support unit, also known as a safety unit.
Segregation for punishment purposes (separate confinement) can be imposed for a maximum of seven days for a major breach of discipline and must comply with the provisions of ss 118 and 121 (Corrective Services Act):
- A doctor or nurse must examine the prisoner for any health concerns as soon as practicable after the separate confinement order takes effect and as soon as it ceases to have effect.
- The terms of the order must take into account any special needs of the person and contain directions about the extent to which they are to receive privileges.
Segregation for administrative purposes (s 53 Corrective Services Act) can be ordered by a general manager either for an incarcerated person’s safety or for the security or good order of the prison (a safety order). If a doctor or psychologist advises Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) that they believe there is a risk the person may harm themselves or others, or be harmed by others, or the safety order is necessary for the security or good order of the prison, they can make a safety order for up to one month. Safety orders can be consecutive, meaning the time spent in solitary confinement may be much longer than one month. The order must specify the conditions that apply to the person’s treatment.
A person on a safety order should not forfeit any privileges other than those that they cannot practicably or desirably receive. Privileges are defined in reg 18 of the Corrective Services Regulation 2017 (Qld) (Corrective Services Regulation) as including use of a library or musical instrument, buying non-essential items, contact visits or phone calls to family and accessing property. The person should be provided with a copy of the safety order, the order’s duration and its conditions as to privileges. A person on a safety order is entitled to apply in writing to QCS for referral of the order to an official visitor (OV) , and QCS must refer the matter to an OV (s 56(2) Corrective Services Act) who must conduct monthly reviews if the safety order requires confinement for more than one month. The OV can make recommendations to QCS about the order (s 56(6) Corrective Services Act), but the Corrective Services Act expressly states that such recommendations are not binding (s 56(9) Corrective Services Act).
Complaints about safety orders should be referred to the ombudsman’s office. Requests for legal advice and assistance about the orders may be referred to Prisoners’ Legal Service or the person’s own lawyer. Safety orders are subject to judicial review.
A Maximum Security Order (MSO) (s 60 Corrective Services Act) for up to six months may be made by QCS, if they believe on reasonable grounds that:
- there is a high risk the prisoner will escape or attempt to escape
- there is a high risk the prisoner will inflict death or serious injury on other prisoners or other persons with whom the prisoner may come into contact
- the prisoner is a substantial threat to prison security and good order.
The orders can be made consecutively, meaning that the effective segregation can continue for years. The severity of the punishment imposed by an MSO makes it essential that questions about any MSO be pursued rigorously. It is particularly important that assistance be sought if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or a person who suffers a mental illness becomes subject to an MSO, as cultural, religious and health needs of the individual are frequently overlooked in favour of security considerations. The rights and protection of vulnerable individuals may be violated if external assistance and scrutiny are not readily available.
If an incarcerated person becomes aware that QCS is proposing to impose an MSO, legal advice and/or assistance should be sought as soon as possible. The MSO will provide information about conditions and duration of the order and the extent of the person’s segregation. A statement of reasons for the decision can be sought within 28 days of written notification of the order (see page on Judicial Review of Corrective Services) and relevant documents can be requested under right to information provisions.
A review by the OV can be requested in writing with the following entitlements (s 63 Corrective Services Act):
- three months (or less)—one review
- more than three months—two reviews.
The OV can inspect all documents relied on in making the MSO and make non-binding recommendations to QCS about the order.
Given the isolation experienced by the person subject to the MSO, it is imperative that any complaints be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities, in particular the ombudsman, the Crime and Corruption Commission (where official misconduct is alleged or suspected) and to the person’s legal adviser as soon as possible.
Conditions in solitary confinement
Regulation 4 of the Corrective Services Regulation provides that a person in solitary confinement must have access to water, a toilet and shower, appropriate clothing, mattress, sheets, blanket and pillow. They must also have the opportunity to exercise for at least two daylight hours a day, unless a doctor or nurse advises otherwise. Regulation 16 requires a health practitioner to be notified if a person will be placed on a maximum security order who has a mental health condition or intellectual disability.