Inmate death triggers MSU closure

Paula Doneman

Inmate death triggers MSU closure

Queensland’s prison chief has shut down a maximum security unit (MSU) at a private Brisbane jail following the death in custody of an accused killer.

The move was triggered by the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Scott O’Connor on January 22 in the unit at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre at Wacol on Brisbane’s western outskirts.

O’Connor had been on 30 minute observations under suicide watch and had plaited sheets to kill himself in the exercise yard of the MSU which has the strictest security regimes.

Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) could not comment on why sheets were left in the cell of a prison on suicide watch but confirmed he had covered up the camera in the exercise yard.

The closure of the unit - a prison within a prison housing Queensland’s most dangerous criminals - will be completed by March 1.
Queensland Corrective Services Commissioner Marlene Morison confirmed the closure but said the jail’s private operator, the GEO Group, would continue to operate the remainder of AGCC.

Seven News recently revealed a series of security bungles at the jail which surrounded O’Connor’s suicide and how his death triggered brutal assaults on four prison officers in two separate attacks.

O’Connor was in the MSU after he was charged for murdering a fellow inmate in an exercise yard attached to the unit in 2011.

Last week Ms Morison put the GEO Group on notice that she was unhappy with the way the jail’s MSU was being operated.

She told Seven News she was waiting for a report from QCS Chief Inspector due to be completed next month before any action was taken.

However, Ms Morison opted to close the MSU prior to the report’s completion following information provided by the Chief Inspector.

She could not comment on the nature of the information but confirmed the death in custody prompted the unit’s closure.

"It will cease operation by March 1," she said today.

Ms Morison said AGCC was reviewed last year under the QCS Healthy Prisons and emerged as a solid performer in its operation of the jail.

However the operation of the MSU was not included in the review.

The closure will mean Corrective Services will re-commission the MSU at Woodford – the first one built in Queensland to house postcard bandit Brendan Abbott following the violent escape he masterminded in 1997.

Ms Morison said the contract with the GEO GROUP had been altered to redirect funding to run their MSU to pay for the re-opening of Woodford and current costs.

"The state will not bear additional costs," she said.

The only other MSU operating in Queensland is at the Brisbane Correctional Centre which is now full with the transfer of maximum security unit prisoners from Arthur Gorrie.

Places were limited so two maximum security unit prisoners are being managed in high security jails until Woodford opens on July 1.

Ms Morison said security classifications for the two prisoners had not been relaxed in any way.

"We have enough appropriate accommodation to manage prisoners on maximum security orders," she said.

Ms Morrison said she could not comment on whether the GEO Group would be fined over the MSU closure and death in custody until all investigations were completed.