Inspections of Prisons in Queensland under Human Rights International Obligations – Embedding Prisoners Perspectives

Dr Jennifer Bell1, Mr Graham  Morrison1, Dr Sandy Sacre1
1Queensland Corrective Services, Brisbane, Australia

The humane treatment of individuals lawfully detained against their will is underpinned by basic human rights principles of dignity, mutual respect and the value of individuals.   Australia has demonstrated its commitment to human rights through its recent ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), the objective of which is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty in order to prevent such adverse treatment. In response to these international obligations, individual states in Australia have been charged with the establishment of local inspection bodies called National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs) to carry out inspections of such facilities.

Importantly, OPCAT signals the need to develop a more systematic and rigorous approach to conducting inspections of detention facilities. The paper will present findings from a survey of prisoners administered during a recent unannounced inspection of a prison in South-East Queensland, the first inspection of this kind in Queensland. While the inspection itself was not covered under the OPCAT framework, it was designed to provide an initial foundation for the development of the OPCAT inspection process that will occur in the future in Queensland.  The survey is one essential element of such a robust inspection process to ensure perspectives of prisoners are considered, in addition to the perspectives of staff, other relevant stakeholders and review of the prison infrastructure and physical environment itself.

The paper will also provide comparisons to similar surveys conducted for OPCAT inspections in Victoria and New Zealand, as well as discuss the methodological challenges associated with administering surveys amongst prisoners. The findings from the survey will be included as part of a final inspection report to support a holistic assessment of the treatment of people detained within a closed facility against OPCAT standards.


Biography:

Dr Jennifer Bell has worked as an Inspector in the Office of the Chief Inspector for Queensland Corrective Services since February 2018.  The Office of the Chief Inspector conducts regular inspections of correctional facilities and probation and parole offices across the state, including those inspections being designed in preparation for Australia’s OPCAT obligations.  She completed a PhD in Public Policy through the University of Queensland in 2016, looking at the various mechanisms which support the use of research in policy making, and is passionate about policy and practice using sound and rigorous evidence to inform policy decisions.

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