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Overcrowding in jails a major concern

 PRISONERS in some Queensland jails are unable to use the toilets through the night due to overcrowding.

Catholic Prison Ministry co-ordinator Dave Martin said he had seen the overcrowding in his contact with prison communities over the past six years.

The practice of “doubling up” where prisoners share cells was potentially a major problem, he said.

Mr Martin said overcrowding was likely to worsen if the State Government continued to implement a “medieval approach” to criminal justice.

A Queensland Corrective Services spokeswoman said double-up placements and the use of temporary beds was a strategy used by Queensland prisons to deal with fluctuations in prisoner numbers.

“Comprehensive guidelines ensure that factors such as prisoners’ health status are taken into account,” she said.

Mr Martin said the Newman Government’s recent anti-bikie laws, which apply mandatory sentences for members of organisations the government deems as criminal, had gone too far.

“These harsh sentences will put further strain on a system already under pressure,” he said.

He also described as “excessive” laws against association with members of bikie gangs.

“What if you are a family member or a lifelong friend?” he said.

Overcrowding was forcing some prisoners to sleep on the floor by the toilets in tiny cells, Mr Martin said.

“There’s an unwritten law in those situations that the toilet can’t be used by either prisoner – they will urinate only for the 14-hour in-cell time each day.

“The situation is really bad for the prisoners’ health.”

Mr Martin said he had seen many cases of overcrowding during his recent tour of Queensland prisons.

“In Townsville 120 prisoners were doubled – they were sharing a tiny cell with another prisoner,” he said.

“The Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre had 240 prisoners doubled and Brisbane Women’s (Correctional Centre) had 40 doubled.”

Mr Martin said prison numbers had risen 15 per cent since the Newman Government had taken office.

One reason for this was last year’s abolition of discretionary courts – the Murri Court, the special circumstances court and the drug courts, he said.

Excessive prison sentences under the Vic-ious Lawless Association Disestablishment legislation passed in State Parliament last month were also a cause for concern, Mr Martin said.

The plan to send such “high risk” offenders to an extreme maximum security prison was “against the basic human rights of prisoners”, he said.

“This is a medieval approach to criminal justice – bikies sentenced to imprisonment in maximum security units will have no access to rehabilitation opportunities,” he said.

“They will exit the prison system traumatised and in some cases entirely unfit for reintegration into mainstream society.”

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