Commissioner Paul Stewart APM (Photo: QCS)

February 14, 2022

Corrective Services Commissioner Paul Stewart has praised prison staff who have been dealing with heightened tensions in Queensland jails due to COVID-19 restrictions while at the same time working hard to mitigate health risks.

Late last month, media reports stated there were more than 480 prisoners and 200 custodial officers across the State who had tested positive to the virus.

Before the Omicron wave hit, it is believed there were about five cases in Queensland jails.

Commissioner Stewart said officers had been working side-by-side with colleagues from Queensland Health to come to terms with a global pandemic within the walls of high security prisons.

“There are just over 9100 adults in custody in Queensland. At the time of writing this (February 10), 454 prisoners were COVID-19 positive,” he said.

“Internationally, prisons are recognised as vulnerable facilities, due to the confined nature of the accommodation and the generally poorer health of prisoners (compared to) the general community.

“Of course, our officers are working in the same environment, and keeping them safe while they continue their vital frontline work is an absolute priority for us.

“We can’t simply close down prisons, and for a large percentage of our workforce, working remotely is simply not possible.

“That is part of the reason why the Chief Health Officer mandated vaccinations for workers in Correctional centres, with all officers being required to be double vaccinated by January 24.

“Like every large employer, we are responding in real time to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation to keep our officers and those in our custody and supervision safe. We are working closely with Queensland Health to make appropriate decisions to ensure the safety and security of our centres and offices.

“QCS has strong planning and robust processes in place to manage COVID-19 outbreaks, including operational plans which allow agile and effective responses. Each Correctional centre has extensive stocks of PPE and can quickly replenish stocks as necessary from a pool supply.

“Since late last year, we have been fit-testing P2/N95 masks for officers, with more sessions scheduled in our centres over coming weeks while we develop the internal capability to deliver training ourselves in the future. We continue to work with Queensland Health to develop processes to minimise or mitigate risk while this occurs.

“I’d like to acknowledge and thank our partners in Queensland Health. They are providing an exceptional level of care and support in our centres across the State during what is a very busy time for them.

“Working in a prison is always an incredibly challenging job, and the added stress placed on the system by COVID-19 has made it even more difficult.

“Just as COVID-19 has disrupted life for all Queenslanders, it has also disrupted the daily structure of prisons.”

Commissioner Stewart acknowledged the tensions that COVID-19 restrictions had created within jails.

“Visits with loved ones have been cancelled, industries, activities and education have been cancelled, and some prisoners have been held in lockdown or isolation for longer than would usually be the case,” he said.

“This, in addition to recent heatwave conditions, has caused a range of critical incidents as prisoners act out in frustration. I thank our officers for responding to this heightened behaviour professionally and safely.

“There is never a ‘quiet’ time in Corrections but 2022 has seen an unprecedented effort from across Queensland Corrective Services as we respond to the impact of the Omicron variant,” he said.

“The deeply human nature of Corrections means that no two days are the same, so it is no surprise that our officers have responded so admirably to the highly dynamic nature of this pandemic.

“I am constantly impressed and humbled by the commitment shown by officers at every level in Queensland Corrective Services, and so many of our officers have stepped up to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic with little fanfare and great professionalism.

“I would like to thank our officers for their ongoing commitment to community safety and agility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They should be rightfully proud of their efforts. They are truly making our communities safer.”

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