Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"Soft" jails a disaster

CHANGES to discipline in state prisons have sparked an outbreak of crime at one of Queensland's highest-security jails. The Courier-Mail can reveal a spate of incidents at Maryborough Correctional Centre since controversial changes to the disciplinary process were implemented across Queensland four months ago.

In one incident at the medium-to-high-security facility – which houses 479 male inmates – a female prison nurse was allegedly assaulted by one of Queensland's most violent criminals. The nurse suffered facial injuries, including two black eyes, when a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence for attempted murder allegedly attacked the nurse with a bottle on August 26.

A prison officer, who did not want to be named for fear of losing their job, said prison management had broken protocol because the inmate was not transferred to another jail. "That nurse is still medicating that prisoner," the officer told The Courier-Mail.

Police did not receive a formal complaint until September 17 – three weeks after it happened.

Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts refused to comment on the assault, but said the nurse had continued to work in the same area as the offender "under staff supervision". Corrective Services was considering transferring the inmate to another facility, he said.

In another alarming incident at Maryborough, prison sources say management waited two days before acting on reports from prison officers that two inmates had been seen on CCTV "shooting up" (injecting drugs intravenously) in a prison laundry on September 11. The delayed search failed to find evidence of the crime. Two inmates were also seen injecting drugs in a prison yard on June 5, the minister confirmed.

The Queensland Public Sector Union and prison staff blame the rise in incidents on a new Breach of Discipline process which they say has stripped staff of authority. QPSU organiser David McInnes said the change in philosophy "came out of nowhere". Mr McInnes said that until recently "mini-hearings" for inmates who committed offences were conducted by correctional supervisors at any time of the day or night, but now they were heard by a manager during office hours. "At the end of the day (management) is generally perceived as being softer in terms of consequences," he said.

"Management at Woodford are all over it and coping well, but at Wacol they've got big problems with breaches (of discipline) lapsing. Management is running around asking them to not (discipline) prisoners."

A prison officer said inmates had "gained the upper hand" since the power shift. "(Management) are in an admin block and spend hardly any time face to face with prisoners. We're there dealing with them daily," the officer said. "(Prisoners) are pushing the boundaries with their verbal abuse and we've got to be nice to them and treat them with respect. "The prisoners' behaviour, knowing that their punishment is going to be minor, just seems to be getting worse.

Director of the Office of the Commissioner for Corrections, Ross McSwain, gave conflicting responses, denying there was a new disciplinary policy, but admitting there had been changes in procedure. Mr McSwain admitted a review late last year had led to managers replacing correctional supervisors in the disciplinary process.

He said elevating the breach hearings to a manager was designed to ensure greater impartiality and separate the roles of prison officers from managers when investigating incidents. "Maintaining an appropriate level of consistency of penalties has been part of the changes."

Opposition prisons spokesman Vaughan Johnson said jails were not being run in accordance with government policy. "There have been other incidents that have left staff scratching their heads as to who's running the prison," he said.


Unarmed man Tasered 13 times by WA police as 9 police stand and watch

Nine police who surrounded an unarmed man at the East Perth watch house used a Taser on him 13 times even though he wasn't threatening them, the WA corruption watchdog has found.

The Corruption and Crime Commission investigation was part of a wider examination of WA Police's use of Tasers since their introduction in 2007, the majority of which were found to be reasonable.

The watchdog looked into the watch house incident after the Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Dawson brought it to their attention. It found the 39-year-old man could have been suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse when he was Tasered in August 2008.

Police said they tried to arrest the man on a Bayswater street after complaints of a trespasser sniffing petrol from cars, but he fled. They later arrested him after he ran into a stationary car on Guildford Road. He allegedly collapsed and became violent, kicking two officers when he woke.

He was taken to the watch house, where police attempted to strip search him. Police said he had previously been convicted of a number of offences including assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and common assault.

"The man had been compliant, removing his belt and earring when requested by police officers. However, the man refused to comply with a strip search and held onto the armrest of the bench. One police officer kicked out at the man in an attempt to 'startle' him into letting go of the bench," the report said.

"Another officer drew his Taser weapon and said 'let go or be Tasered'. The man did not let go and a Taser weapon was deployed on him. The man fell to the ground and was restrained by other police officers." While he was struggling on the ground a police officer said "do you want to go again?" before discharging the Taser again.

CCC director of corruption prevention Roger Watson said the incident was subject to an internal police investigation and the two officers who fired the stun-gun faced disciplinary charges and were fined $1200 and $750 respectively for using undue and excessive force. Two senior officers were found to have provided inadequate supervision.

Mr Dawson said the inmate, who was later jailed on assault charges, did not elect to press charges against the two officers after consultations with the Aboriginal Legal Service and advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions. He conceded the officers were fortunate not to be sacked, though one had been promoted to a sergeant's position since the incident.

"This is an example which is not a good example to use in isolation, it is an example from which we have learnt, but it should not represent the way in which police deal with people all the time," Mr Dawson said.

"We're dealing with violent persons regularly, in this particular instance, this person had an extensive criminal record, and clearly in my view the officers overreacted. They didn't do it in accordance with the policy and the training. For that we very much regret what happened."

Mr Dawson said since the incident, stun guns had been raised against some of the 25,000 inmates brought through the watch house, but not fired by prison officers. He said Corrective Services officers had used Tasers in the watch house but they had their own policies on Tasers.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said he was disturbed by what he saw in the footage. "It was excessive use of a Taser that could not be justified," Mr Barnett said. "I think anyone seeing that footage would find it totally unacceptable." Mr Barnett admitted the incident was a major breach of procedure by the officers involved, and their actions could not be "swept under the carpet".

WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said the incident was completely indefensible and a breach of police guidelines that stipulate Tasers should not be used to get people to comply with orders. He said the officers' behaviour could "properly described as outrageous" and that the fines against them were insufficient.

Mr Porter said police guidelines setting out when Tasers could be used needed to be reviewed. "The government accepts that those guidelines need to be reviewed, we accept the CCC's recommendation in that respect and they will be reviewed," Mr Porter said.

"As a second point of priority this government will be looking into the police force regulations and ways in which we can ensure that the use of Tasers is put to a higher standard in terms of disciplinary proceedings, than just any old run-of-the-mill excessive use of force."

A second case highlighted in the CCC report concerned a man who was Tasered while running from police officers, causing him to fall and break a tooth. He was Tasered twice again while on the ground and seemingly not posing a risk to the male and female officer trying to apprehend him.

Tasers are meant to be used in violent situations, to stop officers having to resort to guns or use lethal force. The weapons deliver a 50,000-volt electric shock to the target, disrupting their muscles. They can also be used in stun-mode, where the shock causes pain but not incapacitation.

But the CCC also found the high-voltage weapon had become the favoured option for police over capsicum spray, batons and handcuffs, with officers reaching for their Tasers in 65 per cent of cases where force was used.

The CCC said Tasers were increasingly used to impose compliance by alleged offenders rather than as an alternative to firearms to reduce injury, as originally intended.

Tasers were used in 49 per cent of incidents where force was necessary in 2007. That figure increased to 74 per cent in 2008 and settled at 65 per cent in 2009. The use of guns had doubled in the same time-frame, rising from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.

The investigation found the weapons were being used disproportionately against Aboriginal people. The CCC was also concerned about the frequency of Taser use against people with mental illness and drug users.

An analysis of the weapons revealed police usually used them between 9pm and 3am from Friday through to Sunday. "There were common situations in which a Taser weapon was deployed, including domestic violence incidents, disturbances, fights and brawls, traffic stops, vehicle pursuits, and reports of weapons and/or assaults," the report said.

Injuries to police had not decreased since the introduction of the weapons, while a study of incidents over a three-month period in 2009 showed those involved in altercations were a Taser was used were 54 per cent less likely to be injured.

The CCC gave 10 recommendations surrounding Taser use, asking for the policy to be changed so that officers could only use them in situations where a safe resolution could not be reached in any other way.

It recommended the weapons should not be used when there was a risk of the person falling and sustaining a serious injury, if they were near water or at risk of drowning, against pregnant women, on those with pre-existing medical conditions, or near flammable liquid or gas.

Mr Watson said the recommendations would bring Taser use in WA into line with other parts of Australia and the world.


Immature Oakeshott craves attention

The Nationals have reacted angrily to allegations of racism within their party by the former party member turned queenmaker Rob Oakeshott, saying he had invented reasons for his 2002 defection.

Mr Oakeshott has said that during a celebration following his election to state parliament in 1996, a "senior National" saw Mr Oakeshott's wife, Sara-Jane, who is of Pacific Islander heritage, and remarked the party was being taken over by "blacks and poofters".

Mr Oakeshott confirmed the incident in an interview with News Limited yesterday, despite reportedly refusing to discuss it when it was first raised by his wife in September.

The Nationals leader in the Senate, Barnaby Joyce, said Mr Oakeshott should have confronted the person who allegedly made the comment at the time, rather than "slink off and not talk about it for 14 years".

"The idea that the National party is a racist party is absolute codswallop," Senator Joyce said.

The Deputy Leader of The Nationals in NSW, Adrian Piccoli, said Mr Oakeshott's thwarted leadership ambitions were behind his defection.

"Every time I read about why Oakeshott left the Nationals there's a different reason. One minute it's developers on the north coast, the next it's the republic and the injecting room - none of which he ever raised in party meetings or even informally."

Mr Oakeshott cited disenchantment with his colleagues and the influence of property developers when he resigned from the party in 2002. But Mr Piccoli said: "Why he left was he thought he was much more important than the Nats had given him credit for. He wanted to be the boss and he wasn't."

The Nationals NSW upper house MP Melinda Pavey said Mr Oakeshott was responding to criticism of his decision to support Julia Gillard for prime minister by "attacking the party that gave him his start in politics".


Conveyancing slackness in W. Australia

By Noel Whittaker

For hundreds of years, property has been regarded as one of the safest investments around. But recent events in Perth have undermined the unique permanence of property.

Roger Mildenhall, the owner of a property in Karrinyup, Perth, was living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. In June, Nigerian scammers, using a combination of emails and telephone calls, managed to con a Perth real estate agent into selling his house to a neighbour for $485,000.

The money disappeared overseas quickly and the fraud was discovered only when Mr Mildenhall returned to Perth and found out that a second property he owned was about to suffer the same fate.

Consumer advocate Neil Jenman has for years been warning people about the lack of identity verification in real estate transactions. “You need more ID to rent a video than you do to buy a house," he said. Mr Jenman said it was simple to steal someone's house. First, the crook locates a debt-free property with an overseas owner, and does a search to find their full name. He then goes to a real estate agent and tells them he is sick of all the maintenance costs of owning the property and wants a quick sale.

The agent doesn’t ask for identilication and the crook may then ask the agent to recommend a solicitor, or simply claim they are doing their own conveyancing. Not all solicitors ask for ID, especially if the agent has introduced a new client.

When asked for the whereabouts of the title deed, the response will be “I have moved around so much I can’t locate the deeds, can you please arrange for a duplicate".

After a few illegal statutory declarations and some notices in the paper no one (other than banks) reads, they get a duplicate certificate of title. Then the transfer is effected with forgeries and the proceeds are quickly sent overseas.

It’s a classic case of identity theft but what happens to the hapless ex-property owner? As far as I can gather, the buyer who has bought the property in good faith gets to keep it and the only recourse left for the dispossessed "vendor" is to claim on the Fidelity Fund of the Titles Office and then fight for a fair value.

Lawyer Brett Davies, from Brett Davies Lawyers in Perth, says the vendors in these situations are also free to pursue the real estate agent and the conveyancing agent in case there is any negligence.

Identity theft is a fast-growing industry but luckily, at this stage, house stealing is fairly rare. However, it still behoves property owners to be vigilant and do the best they can to protect themselves.

Mr Davies suggests one of the best ways to do this is to merely leave the bank mortgage over the property. “It costs you nothing and the bank holds your duplicate title, generally, for free,” he said.

Or, if your property is debt free, you could arrange for a mortgage to be taken over it to a family member. It doesn’t cost much and will be one of the cheapest forms of insurance you could ever take out.

The report above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

1 comment:

Paul said...

The Prisons problem mirrors the Health problem in Queensland: the drive for central control at the expense of competent management.