A series of security bungles and the suicide of a maximum security inmate triggered two vicious attacks on correctional officers at a privately run Brisbane private jail.
The incidents have put the jail’s contractor on notice with Queensland’s prison chief who said she was unhappy with the way they were running the maximum security unit at the Arthur Gorrie Remand and Reception Centre at Wacol on Brisbane’s western outskirts.
Pending a departmental investigation by Queensland Corrective Service’s Chief Inspector, the MSU may be closed and the jail operator, the GEO Group, also may be fined around $100,000.
Two attacks in two days by convicted murderer Michael Owen-Darcy on four officers left one hospitalised, another needing stitches to re-attach his ear and a fourth officer too traumatised to work.
Owen-Darcy used a sharpened teaspoon, commonly known as a “shiv”, to slash the face and neck of one of three officers responding to a disturbance in his cell in the Behavioural Management Unit on January 25.
The officer required 30 stitches to his face and his colleagues said he will need to have plastic surgery. Another male officer had lacerations and was treated at the scene and the third officer, a female, has been on stress leave
Owen-Darcy had only been moved out of the maximum security unit three days before the attack (in the MSU),which houses the state’s worst and highest risk prisoners. He had been moved following an assessment by Queensland Corrective Services.
Staff said he had been previously incarcerated in the MSU for lengthy stints for violent behaviour and repeated attacks on officers.
Officers told Seven News that following the first attack, management ignored their pleas to return the killer to maximum security, and instead placed him in a cell in the jail’s health centre.
Two days later on January 27, an officer responding to an incident in Owen-Darcy’s cell was attacked and had part of his ear bitten off.
Management then placed Owen-Darcy in the detention unit but did not transfer him to maximum security for two days until staff threatened industrial action, officers alleged. He was moved to the Brisbane Correctional Centre on Tuesday.
Owen-Darcy, was jailed for life for murdering his landlord in 2007. He stabbed him 41 times and cut off his genitals.
Staff and Corrective Services confirmed the attacks were in retaliation to the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Scott O’Connor, 31, in the jail’s MSU on January 22.
O’Connor was in the MSU after he was charged for murdering a fellow inmate in an exercise yard attached to the MSU unit in 2011.
Prison chief Marlene Morison told Seven News O’Connor had been on suicide watch “on and off” but recently he was assessed as a higher risk by staff and a psychologist.
“He was talking in terms of (hearing) voices, he was clearly depressed…he was assessed by a psychologist and a risk assessment team and their view was his risk of suicide increased and put him on 30-minute observations."
Ms Morison said O’Connor had plaited sheets to kill himself in the exercise yard of the MSU.
She could not comment on why sheets were left in the cell of a prisoner on suicide watch but confirmed he had covered up his camera.
She also could not comment on how long it was before his body was discovered by staff because of the ongoing departmental and police investigations.
“At one time, there are between 10 and 15 prisoners that meet the criteria for a maximum security order out of 5,700 prisoners in the state,’’ she said.
Ms Morison said O’Connor’s suicide “provided a pretty good explanation” for the attacks on staff and had contributed to increasing the instability of Owen-Darcy as he adjusted to life outside the MSU.
“Look for me it’s a unusual circumstance. Someone who’s left the MSU has their associate die three days into that period of adjustment from a maximum security environment," she said.
She said she understood the frustration of the officers and the impact the two attacks would have on them.
Ms Morison said she was not aware of claims by staff that Owen-Darcy was moved out of the jail’s MSU against their wishes and said officers' impressions and comments were considered in the management of prisoners.
“Entry or exit into the MSU is centrally overseen with careful decisions and a significant number of people involved…’’
She said police were investigating the attacks on the four officers by Owen-Darcy and she expected the Chief Inspector’s report to be completed in four to six weeks.
In the meantime she had placed government monitors in the Arthur Gorrie MSU as her “eyes and ears” and she was unhappy as to how it was being run.
“At this stage I am just ensuring we cover off the risk…we have had a very significant incident, an incident which is in the context of a death 12 months prior (the murder O’Connor was charged with committing)," she said, “That means it’s important to me to ensure every process that should be occurring, that should operating to manage prisoners in that environment, is operating properly," she said.
Ms Morison said she was concerned to hear that a second prisoner transferred out of Arthur Gorrie following the attacks, had been found with sharpened nail clippers secreted in his body.
The clippers were found when he was searched upon arrival at the Brisbane Correctional Centre’s MSU on Tuesday, staff saw the clipped protruding from the man’s body.
The prisoner, Craig Saunders told them he had planned to use them to attack their colleagues at Arthur Gorrie.
“Saunders had not been properly searched when he left Arthur Gorrie but we are no longer allowed to strip search them by law," a BCC officer said.
The United Voice union Prison Coordinator Michael Clifford said officials had met with Arthur Gorrie management today about how to avoid a repeat of violence against staff.
“We are determined to ensure these incidents don’t happen again. These things have a tremendous impact, not just on people who are seriously injured in the first place but also on their families and also on their workmates at the prison," he said.
He said they were satisfied management was doing everything it could for staff and to ensure their safety.
Mr Clifford said the union would meet with the government over concerns of officers that they no longer had the ability to respond to incidents within the jail.