‘Serious policy void’ exposed at prison

An appeal of a disciplinary decision has exposed an “astonishing” lack of formal procedure to deal with threats in a North Queensland prison.

Custodial Corrections Officer Anthony Irving was found guilty of misconduct over a 2021 fight between female inmates in the facility.

In a decision published on Wednesday, Queensland Industrial Relations Commissioner (QIRC) Dwyer found the decision to be unfair and unreasonable, pointing to a “serious policy void” within Queensland Corrective Services.

In May last year, Mr Irving was issued a show cause notice over two allegations: that on 11 December 2021, he failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of “Prisoner J” after she raised concerns about “Prisoner C”; and that he failed to activate his body-worn camera in an incident involving the two women later that day.

In August he was advised by Deputy Commissioner of Custodial Operations that he had been found guilty of misconduct under the Public Sector Act 2022 (Qld), and that disciplinary action had been deemed warranted.

Mr Irving challenged the finding and was successful in the QIRC last month.


The Commission heard Mr Irving was told by Prisoner J that Prisoner C had threatened to “bash” her, and he had replied in words to the effect of “Leave it with me”.

After speaking to Prisoner C, he determined there was no threat. Within minutes of the conversation, Prisoner C assaulted Prisoner J, causing injury to her lip, requiring three stitches.

Commissioner Dwyer stated it was impossible to see how Mr Irving’s conduct could be classed as misconduct in all the circumstances.

“Importantly in this matter, it is acknowledged by the decision maker that the respondent has no formal procedure for dealing with reports of threats,” he said.

“This is nothing short of astonishing when one considers that QCS is responsible for the safe custody of people held in a prison system that includes dangerous and violent individuals.

“While interviews with a handful of Mr Irving’s co-workers purportedly establish what they consider is the ‘usual practice’, this falls well short of establishing an ‘accepted standard’ that Mr Irving had departed from, or against which serious negligence can be measured.”


Commissioner Dwyer said those records of interview showed no clear or consistent understanding of any practice known or understood by officers, including Mr Irving’s supervisor.

“In the absence of any formal policy for reporting threats, or any detailed agreement on a uniformly accepted practice, it can only be concluded that the reality of the situation in this workplace is that the respondent relies on the judgment of its custodial officers to determine the veracity of reported threats before they are required to act on them,” he said.

“This is entirely understandable given that it can be readily anticipated that innumerable, baseless threats of violence must occur on a daily basis in prisons, and a compulsion to report every one of them would produce an enormous burden on staff.”

He said Mr Irving did not carelessly or negligently ignore the reported threat.

“On the contrary, he firstly assured Prisoner J that he was acting on it. He then immediately sought out Prisoner C to discuss the threat with her,” he said.

“While discussing the matter with Prisoner C, Mr Irving formed a view that the threat was baseless. His view was not formed casually. His view was founded not just in his observations of the demeanour and language of Prisoner C, but also in the context of his not insubstantial experience as a prison officer, and his knowledge of (amongst other things) prisoners occasionally making false allegations of threats to provoke the exclusion of another prisoner from their particular unit.


“There is no evidence that would suggest that Mr Irving reached the conclusions that he did on any other basis than pursuant to an exercise of his best judgment in all the circumstances that presented to him at the time.

“The fact that Prisoner C immediately contradicted his judgment does not, of itself, mean that his judgment was flawed or that he acted unreasonably or negligently.”

It emerged at the hearing that earlier documented tensions between Prisoner J and Prisoner C were never communicated to Mr Irving before he began his shift.

“It is particularly unfair and unreasonable to effectively blame Mr Irving for an assault merely because it happened ‘on his watch’ in the context of a serious policy void, and where a report prepared only the day before was not brought to his attention and went unactioned,”  Commissioner Dwyer said.

In relation to Allegation 2, Mr Irving did not dispute he failed to activate his body-worn camera, but argued his failure was unintentional, and related to having no visual or audio reminders to activate it.

He said it was easy to forget to activate the camera in the adrenaline rush of responding to an incident, and that this incident escalated quickly.


Commissioner Dwyer said Mr Irving’s explanation was “entirely plausible given the urgent nature of the duties he was performing, and especially given that those duties involved ensuring the safety of a prisoner”.

He added Mr Irving had completed a detailed incident report, which included an explanation for the failure.

“Having regard to the circumstances, it is impossible to see how the decision maker might have regarded Mr Irving’s unintentional contravention as ‘sufficiently serious’ to warrant disciplinary action,” he said.

Commissioner Dwyer set aside the decision, and substituted a decision that the allegations were not substantiated.

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