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4 February, 2014 3:41PM AEST

Prison officer speaks out against bikie laws

An employee of a Queensland prison has broken ranks to voice his concerns about the introduction of the VLAD legislation by the Newman Government.

The prison officer - who still works in the industry - says he and his colleagues are "very worried" about how the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act will impact on their safety; both at work and off duty.

The officer, who has requested anonymity for fear of losing his job, says the situation is concerning because officers aren't adequately protected.

"The straw that broke the camel's back was a colleague being threatened. He no longer works for us. People followed him home from the gym and threatened his wife and family. Intelligence has told us that they were bikie affiliates," he said.

"He feels that the department can't guarantee his safety. "

He says prison officers aren't protected like the police.

"Police officers are allowed to remove their name badges, told how to remove their names from electoral roles and our department has done nothing for us and yet we're the ones that are dealing with them for the 25 years that they're sentenced for and yet the police are dealing with them for the 15 minutes it takes for them to be arrested and taken back to the police station."

Michael Thomas, a director at the Together Union, says the controversial laws impact on prison officers by increasing prison numbers and decreasing the safety of Corrective Services staff.

"It's a law and order agenda. But that's meant the prison population numbers have surged, so you've got overcrowding, with prisoners doubling up in cells and prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor. This leads to more stress in prisons, more danger in prisons and the real threat of serious prison assaults on our members and possibly worse," he said.

"Our members are telling us that the LNP government has slashed the programs that keep prisoners occupied and prepare and rehabilitate them to return to society. That adds up to more dangerous prisons."

The prison officer says privatisation of prisons will only make things worse.

"Under privatisation it is all about the dollar and obviously the easiest way to make money out of jails is to cut the amount of staff that are there, so that cuts the safety. Jails cost money, there's no two ways about that," the officer said.

Mr Thomas agrees.

"Everywhere it happens there is a reduction in numbers of staff and the facility is driven from a profit motive not a security motive. It's far better to have a safe prison than a profitable one," he said.

The prison officer does not know what the standard ratio of prison officer to prisoners is currently set at.

"We've been trying to get the answer for about two years. Nobody will actually give you a number because if they break that then they'd have to be accountable for it. So they won't actually give you a number. It's roughly about 25 prisoners to one officer."

Job stress

The officer says staff are becoming demoralised.

"I've been a prison officer for over 16 years. At the moment there's not a lot of work satisfaction at all, because Campbell Newman has kicked it out of us."

He says bikies are not usually difficult to manage in the system and the hierarchical system can be beneficial in maintaining control.

"Generally they're fairly well behaved. Without saying we use the bikies influence over the younger ones; yeah, it's a common occurrence for that to happen. The senior members do keep the junior members under control," he said.

Solitary confinement

Solitary confinement for 23 hours a day is a component of the new legislation, although currently the law limits that to 22 hours per day. The officer says solitary confinement is a punishment, not a deterrent.

"There are a lot of studies out that say capital punishment is not a deterrent, so I doubt that you will get anyone to agree that solitary confinement is a deterrent as well, but it is certainly a punishment, that's for sure."

"It certainly affects their psychological capacity. Their ability to cope is certainly affected by their solitary confinement."

Women jailed under VLAD

The officer has further concerns about how women charged under the legislation can be accommodated within the system

There have been some notable arrests of alleged associates since the introduction of the VLAD legislation. Brisbane City Council librarian Sally Kuether; the first woman jailed under the association legislation, received a Lord Mayor's award for her volunteer work after the 2011 Brisbane floods.

She was arrested on January 24 and spent six nights in jail for being with her partner Phillip Palmer and friend Ronald Germain at a Dayborough Hotel. The two men are members of the Life and Death Motor Cycle Club. She was given bail on January 31.

"We don't want her to come to jail," the officer said.

"I don't believe 'womens' are set up to have bikie prisoners held inside 'womens', the same way Campbell Newman wishes the males to be held. It would require infrastructure changes and all sorts of things. It's operational. We couldn't house her the way Campbell Newman wants her to be housed," he said.