October 18, 2018
World

‘Fight clubs’ and inmates ‘shooting up on the landings’ in notorious private prison

Secret reports and insider accounts from prison officers and former inmates reveal Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre is overcrowded, increasingly violent and unsafe — even for the staff.

The unit was already overcrowded, and now the screws were bringing in another prisoner.

"I told them, 'he is going to get bashed'," said "Peter", a prison officer at Queensland's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre.

"This unit already had over 50 prisoners in it. It was a fight club. Had all the mongrels."

On this day Peter was escorting a new inmate, a sexual abuse victim, who would get his own cell. And that meant they would have to clear a cell and squeeze those inmates into an already overcrowded unit.

"We've got some real heavies, and they'll go to the new prisoner, 'you're not welcome here, f**k off'," Peter said.

Despite warning management of the risk, Peter was told to take the new prisoner in.

The inmates inside could see the newbie in the airlock, and they were not happy.

"I got him in the airlock and said: 'watch your back son'," Peter said.

"I put him in his cell, and the whole unit are going, 'kill yourself, kill your f**king self, you're going to get it in the f**king morning'.

"It was a stupid idea to ever put him in my unit and I told them that and they didn't bloody listen. Then he just about killed himself."

Peter said the new inmate was discovered in time by prison staff and survived.

'One of the most nastiest and corrupt prisons'

In 2012, Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre recorded two suicide attempts. But figures compiled by the ABC from official incident reports obtained under Right to Information reveal that in the 18 months to September 2017, that number had spiked to 37.

Prison pictured from above.

"A lot of people do feel that feeling of insecurity and feel like they are going to get bashed or stabbed, so the only way they think out is taking their own life," said Kevin Davenport, who has done two stints inside Arthur Gorrie.

He left the prison in April after serving time for a parole violation for offences involving drugs, fraud and assaulting police.

"Arthur Gorrie inside, if I had to use a term, it would probably be one of the most nastiest and corrupt prisons I've been in," said the 24-year-old, who has also served time in Tasmania, South Australia, and New South Wales.

"Inside there it's crazy, actually, because you have staff there that don't go by the books."

Arthur Gorrie is a remand centre where people who have been ordered to be held in custody await trial.

Many are coming down off drugs, while for others it is their first experience of the prison system.

Located at Wacol in the western suburbs of Brisbane, Arthur Gorrie is one of only two private prisons in Queensland.

It is managed by GEO Group Australia, a subsidiary of the controversial US prison giant GEO.

The back of a prisoner officer in a jail.

'There's going to be a staff fatality'

Peter and another Arthur Gorrie officer "Carol" spoke to the ABC on the basis they would not be identified, saying they would lose their jobs if management discovered they were speaking out.

They said spikes in attempted suicides and violence at the prison were being driven largely by one factor.

"It's drastically overcrowded. Every cell is doubled up," Carol said.

"It's a violent place. It seems calm as anything, then all of a sudden, it'll kick off and some of these things are huge incidents with multiple people involved.

"I think overcrowding, the sheer volume of prisoners is probably the main cause of it."

Portrait of a union representative.

An unreleased 2017 report by Queensland's chief inspector of prisons confirms the extent of overcrowding:

"The centre's prisoner population is currently at capacity, having increased approximately 35 per cent since 2012 and 28 per cent since 2013, with 315 'double up' cells currently, i.e. 630 prisoners out of a prisoner population of 1,179 were in doubled up accommodation at the time of inspection."

"We don't have enough staff to safely manage the prison. It's an absolute powder keg," said Damien Davie of United Voice, the union that represents many of Arthur Gorrie's prison officers.

"We had a situation where one officer got knocked down and a group of inmates kicked the hell out of him and it was up to 10 minutes before there was even a response to help this officer out.

"It's only a matter of time with this overcrowding and understaffing that there's going to be a staff fatality at Arthur Gorrie."

The 2017 chief inspector's report also reveals a 500 per cent increase in serious assault and a 700 per cent surge in sexual assault between 2013 and 2016.

External Link: Violent incidents and drug use in 2013 and 2016

Violence is 'easily done' with crammed units, ex-inmate says

Arthur Gorrie's rate of prisoner on prisoner assault in 2016 was double the rate of the next most violent prison.

"The reasons for these assaults and threats are not clear, but could be related to overcrowding (155 per cent capacity, 300 plus double up cells)," the report said.

"They're jamming everyone in, they're turning 50 man units into 80 man units," said former inmate "Steve", who has done four stints at Arthur Gorrie, most recently in 2016.

"You've got two officers to a unit and half the time they're sitting in a fish bowl not giving a f**k. If you want to get someone you can. It's easily done.

"Just drag them into the toilet and off you go."

Prison guard's back with key shown.

"I've seen a lot of nasty, brutal bashings happening in front of me," ex-prisoner Davenport said.

"I've been eating my dinner and next minute I've seen someone get sliced from the back of their ear to the front of their jaw and just bleed in front of you, you know, and there's nothing you can do."

But the violence isn't restricted to prisoner-on-prisoner incidents.

"I was told by colleagues of a recent incident where a prisoner barricaded himself in a cell. Officers couldn't get in, so they had to take the door off," officer Peter said.

"Because these people aren't trained properly, they went in and they dragged him out, dragged him out into the hallway and then they beat the absolute f**k out of him until he became unconscious and they had to radio for an ambulance because he stopped breathing."

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That prisoner was taken to hospital.

So too was a prisoner who ended up with a dislocated hip after an Arthur Gorrie officer dropped his knee onto the inmate while the man was handcuffed and on the ground.

The officer told investigators he "counselled" the prisoner.

But one of his colleagues said the officer had told the prisoner to "shut the f**k up c**t".

Lying on the ground with a dislocated left hip, the prisoner said the officer told him, "that's what you get for shaping up".

Investigators found the officer had used unjustified force in the September 2016 incident, and that staff had tried to cover it up in their report.

"This reluctance by correctional employees to report serious misconduct by others is perplexing," the investigation report stated, adding that, if left unchecked, this misconduct could be "interpreted by external bodies as systemic" at Arthur Gorrie.

Officers have their own 'boys' club'

Davenport says there is a ring of officers behind the violence known as "the boys' club".

"So the boys' club is prison officers that join together. For example, two inmates have a fight, staff rock up and they can say the reason they used excessive force is because they were assaulted or something happened that didn't happen and there were no cameras in the area to show it," he said.

Portrait of young man inside a prison.

Davenport said the officers involved would "get together and write one story" to justify their use of violence on inmates to prison management.

"They can't keep covering things up like that," he said.

The union's Mr Davie also told the ABC about the boys' club.

"They have a boys' club," he said.

"They put pressure on people to change reports or not report on certain incidents. I've inspected documents where there's three officers who've all made three different reports."

Another internal report into the unjustified use of C/S (tear) gas and batons on prisoners during a 2016 riot found that "some elements" of Arthur Gorrie staff "have a poor understanding of the legislation, policy and procedure surrounding 'use of force' [and] this incident is not an isolated occurrence".

"We've got some absolute numpties there, people who shouldn't be on the job," officer Carol said.

"A minority of these people don't even pass the course, but they still get positions."

Mr Davie said: "GEO have the shortest pre-training service course. Most operators have 8 to 10 weeks, GEO have a six-week course."

Former Arthur Gorrie inmate Steve said: "The screws just treat you like an animal.

"You're better off going to the RSPCA because you would get treated better there."

An internal GEO investigation report into the use of force on a prisoner at Arthur Gorrie in December 2015 found "there has been an increase over time in the reported number of incidents [at the centre]".

"This includes incidents involving use of force by custodial staff on prisoners," the report states.

'They're shooting up on the landings'

Drugs are also a big problem inside Arthur Gorrie, with positive tests more than doubling between 2012 and 2016.

"Every unit I've been in they're shooting up on the landings," Peter said.

"My big question to management is: 'We know they're shooting up, they're not supposed to be shooting up, they're not supposed to have drugs in here and you want me to go out on the floor by myself and fight them for a syringe?' And they will bash you before they give up a loaded syringe."

Close-up of tattooed hands.

The general manager of Arthur Gorrie, Troy Ittensohn, told a recent inquiry the two main sources of drugs coming into Arthur Gorrie are through visitors and the mail.

"We have a number of barriers in place, but there's no one system that's going to stop the drugs coming in to the jail, unfortunately," he said.

But former inmate Davenport says the main supply route for drugs is not through the mail or visitors.

"I've had drugs bought in myself. I've paid a prison officer, a couple of prison officers, to bring in pot, so marijuana, and morphine strips," he said.

"You give [the prison officer] a contact number for a person on the outside and when they pick up the drugs they pick up the money for doing it, and that's how the deal's done."

Jail manager admits assaults 'highest of the centres'

GEO declined to speak to the ABC, saying it would be improper for the company to comment while the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) was conducting an inquiry codenamed Taskforce Flaxton, to investigate "corruption and corruption risks" inside the state's prisons.

The company provided a statement to the ABC which said it had a "zero tolerance policy on unethical behaviour and corruption".

"As such GEO would strongly urge anyone holding information on any alleged incidents of corruption or unethical behaviour to provide that information to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission so it can be fully investigated," the statement said.

Arthur Gorrie's manager was among a number of witnesses called to give evidence to Taskforce Flaxton's public hearings, which have touched on the use of force, assaults and drug problems in Queensland's jails including Arthur Gorrie.

Questioned at the hearings, Mr Ittensohn agreed that data indicated that assault rates had increased substantially at the centre in the past few years.

"I think that we are the highest of the centres," he said.

Under the commercial-in-confidence contract between GEO and the State Government, the company faces financial deductions if major incidents take place, Mr Davie said.

"Under-reporting is how GEO operates, whether it's attempted assaults, assaults on staff, prisoner on prisoner assaults, attempted suicides, GEO will under-report," he said.

A map showing the different types of GEO operations around the world.

Asked about the incident involving the prisoner having his hip dislocated and the reluctance of officers to report the use of force, Mr Ittensohn said: "That's the culture of not dobbing in a mate."

But he added, "the obligation of staff to report accurately what they see is utmost important and a requirement of their duties".

Questioned at the CCC hearing by the union's counsel, Mr Ittensohn denied the existence of prison officers' boys' club and said he was not aware of any cases where use of force was not reported.

"I think our mechanisms in place are quite robust and rigid, but anything is possible," Mr Ittensohn said.

He also told the hearing GEO's contract with the State Government required it to double up prisoners in cells.

He said that since this practice had started GEO had maintained more officers than agreed with the union, with "an extra staff member for every 25 prisoners that came in".

"Our current situation is that we have two officers in units," Mr Ittensohn told the hearing.

The contract for Arthur Gorrie is currently up for tender.

GEO, which has run the centre since it opened in 1992, has once again tendered for the contract, with the successful bidder expected to be announced by the Palaszczuk Government within weeks.

"If GEO gets this contract I'm going to try to get over to Queensland Corrective Services, because I've had enough of them," officer Carol said.

"The cover-ups and the things they've done to prisoners and staff, if you actually sent a few coppers in and plucked a couple of staff and just interviewed [them] they would have to tell the truth or else.

"You can become part of it by just not saying anything and there are a lot of people who know a lot of bad, bad, bad things that are going on in there."

Watch the story on ABC's 7.30 tonight.

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