Prisoners jailed for serious domestic violence are being permitted to regularly inflict hideous abuse against victims, according to Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) data.
In a revealing and disturbing presentation in the Queensland Law Society’s Modern Advocate Lecture series last week, PBQ Deputy President Peter Shields lifted the lid on many secrets that remain locked behind prison doors.
In a wide-ranging address, Mr Shields spoke about crimes of DV being regularly perpetrated by prisoners in custody, how perpetrators of domestic violence have extremely limited, or no access to courses to assist in their rehabilitation, and the reasons behind the staggering backlog in considering parole applications for thousands of inmates – for up to eight months in some cases.
“As we all know, the commission of domestic violence and the long-term impacts of domestic violence on the survivors, the perpetrators and the children growing up in households where domestic violence is commonplace, is currently subject to a number of reviews,” Mr Shields said.
“The level and severity of the violence seen by the board is alarming; as is the extent of repeat domestic violence offending, including domestic violence perpetrated by offenders already on parole, or in custody, for domestic violence offending.”
Date collected by PBA shows that about 35% of parolees are returned to custody due to their involvement in committing acts of domestic violence. Another very disturbing trend identified by the board has been prisoners perpetrating domestic violence from inside prison.
“It became apparent to the board that on a frequent (sometimes daily) basis, through direct and indirect contact via the Prison Telephone System, some prisoners were continuing to perpetrate domestic violence; sometimes in direct contravention of a non-contact domestic violence order,” Mr Shields said.
“There is zero tolerance by the board for that type of offending. As a community the clear expectation must be that someone in jail for domestic violence offending cannot commit further domestic violence offending -–and if they do, they will be held criminally liable.
“In collaboration with Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) and the Queensland Police Service (QPS), the board has led the way in implementing robust measures to directly target these prisoners – not only in consideration of parole applications but also in pursuit of criminal charges.
To combat ongoing DV offenders, PBQ now has a process in place to formally request an Intelligence Assessment be undertaken regarding any prisoner. This is prepared by the QCS Intelligence Group.
The Intelligence Assessment Report includes a summary of all known intelligence holdings for the prisoner, any relevant QPS intelligence holdings and an audit of the Prison Telephone System.
“This has been a ‘game-changer’ for the board in that it can now be equipped with a more complete picture when assessing a prisoner’s application for parole and the risk they pose to community safety,” he said.
“It also means that prisoners, prompted by the Queensland Police representatives, are in fact being charged and prosecuted with further domestic violence offences. It is hoped that these measures will provide strength and support to the victims of crime – that they can feel safer in the knowledge that the violence will stop while a prisoner is in jail, and that the prisoner will not be released to parole if it doesn’t.”
Mr Shields said another barrier hobbling attempts to rehabilitate DV offenders before the inevitable release from custody was the provision of specialist targeted domestic violence courses.
“Before I leave the complicated and concerning area of domestic violence it would be remiss of me to not point out two observations which cause me great concern,” he said.
“The first is that as I stand before you tonight, there is currently not one specialised targeted domestic violence course being offered to domestic violence offenders in custody.
“In the recent estimates hearing on 12 August 2021, an Acting Deputy Commissioner of QCS stated the following:
‘In January 2019, QCS initiated an internally funded 18-month trial of a domestic and family violence perpetrator program, Disrupting Family Violence, at the Woodford, Wolston and Maryborough correctional centres as trial sites. Whilst QCS has previously facilitated programs that include elements focused on addressing domestic and family violence, this was the first perpetrator program focused solely on domestic and family violence to be implemented in a correctional centre setting by QCS.
‘QCS staff were trained by international experts in the area. During the trial, 104 prisoners completed the program and QCS partnered with the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre to offer victim support services to both current and former partners of program participants. A process evaluation of the pilot was undertaken and QCS is in the final stages of addressing the recommendations of the report.
‘QCS has undertaken work to implement recommended enhancements, including providing enhanced training to program delivery staff, revising assessment tools and guidelines and establishing a dedicated intelligence adviser role to enhance and monitor victim safety.
‘The government has also committed funding for a victim advocacy service for the next two financial years as a critical component of the program which provides further support and protections to victims of domestic and family violence. With the announcement of this funding allocation, QCS is on track to recommence delivery of the Disrupting Family Violence program in the Woodford, Walston and Maryborough correctional centres by the end of the year.’”
Mr Shields said the obvious flaw in the proposed rollout of the Disrupting Family Violence program was that only three correctional centres would benefit.
“Queensland has 19 correctional centres,” he said. “The Disrupting Family Violence program will be offered in only three.
“When regard is had to the previously disclosed data that 35% of prisoners are returned to custody by the board due to their involvement in domestic violence, this is an inadequate response to the scourge of domestic violence, particularly when one of the five legislated purposes of any sentence is the rehabilitation of the offender.
“My second observation is that we cannot assist in the rehabilitation of any offender, including the perpetrators of domestic violence, to be imprisoned in facilities which are significantly over capacity, the reality of which means that almost half of the male prisoner population share a cell built for one. This has led to numerous physical assaults as well as sexual assaults including rape.
“I will conclude with one final observation, in the form of a question. Do you think a prisoner imprisoned for perpetrating acts of domestic violence will leave prison better or worse, if they have not been subject to any meaningful rehabilitative program and have spent their sentence fearing for their own safety?”