Urgent need for independent oversight highlighted by allegations of widespread rape in Queensland jails

A Queensland jail worker at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre has been granted bail after facing charges for a number of offences, including raping inmates, attempted sexual assaults and attempting to procure a sexual act by intimidation.

Ben Schokman, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, said this fresh evidence of widespread rape in Queensland jails reveals an urgent need for independent monitoring and oversight of prisons.

“The establishment of a fully independent body to inspect places of detention and publicly report its findings and recommendations is an urgent priority and required under international human rights law,” said Mr Schokman.

These recent revelations follow serious concerns raised earlier this year about sexual assaults being commonplace in Queensland’s prisons, including concerns raised by the National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, that 17-year-olds are at risk of being raped or harmed in adult jails.

These concerns were dismissed at the time by Queensland Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie.

“When it’s the prison guards themselves who are committing the rape, a complaints based system is hardly an appropriate or effective way to investigate allegations and to prevent the mistreatment from happening in the first place,” said Mr Schokman.

Given the significant power imbalance that exists in prisons, Mr Schokman said there are many reasons why prisoners who have been the subject of mistreatment will be reluctant to make complaints about their treatment,”

“Prisoners quickly learn that if you make a complaint, especially about sexual assault, then you will suffer further as a result. Independent oversight is clearly required to adequately protect the rights of people deprived of their liberty,” said Mr Schokman.

These recent allegations are yet another reason why Australia must move urgently to ratify the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

The Optional Protocol is an international treaty that obliges countries to establishment independent oversight bodies to inspect places of detention in order to prevent mistreatment. Australia signed the Optional Protocol in May 2009, but despite pledging to ratify it as a matter of urgency has so far failed to do so.

“The Attorney-General’s cursory dismissal of widespread rape in Queensland prisons only further highlights the need for the establishment of an independent body,” said Mr Schokman.

“Making places of detention more open, transparent and accountable helps to ensure that people deprived of liberty are treated with dignity and respect. Any further delay in the prevention of ill-treatment in detention has intolerable social and economic costs and is simply not an option,” said Mr Schokman.

Further information about the Optional Protocol and reasons for ratification by Australia are available at http://www.hrlc.org.au/australia-must-ratify-op-cat-submission-to-joint-standing-committee-on-treaties-26-march-2012.

For further information or comments:
Ben Schokman 0403 622 810 or ben.schokman@hrlc.org.au