Queensland prisoners who inflict domestic violence from behind bars are more likely be caught under a new project aiming to hold offenders accountable and reduce harm to survivors.
- The state’s parole board has reported a “disturbing trend” of inmates who perpetrate domestic violence from inside prison
- Survivor says the experience left her feeling unnerved and in need of further counselling
- Mail sent by inmates subject to domestic violence orders is now intercepted and referred to authorities
Authorities say they have found a “very disturbing trend” among a “scourge” of prisoners who disregard domestic violence orders by using telephones, mail and outside help to harass, assault and control abuse survivors.
A Brisbane specialist domestic violence service said it was aware of cases where survivors have been sexually and physically assaulted in attacks orchestrated from behind bars by their estranged partners.
When Rose’s* ex-partner was jailed for breaching the domestic and family violence order (DFVO) she took out to protect herself and the couple’s toddler, she thought she would finally be out of his reach.
But her hopes were shattered in 2018 when she received a three calls from a private number.
The calls came from a corrections officer at the prison who was unaware of the DFVO in place that forbid her ex-partner from contacting her.
Rose said the officer asked if she would speak to her ex-partner who had allegedly applied to have her on his call list.
“It was a different form of abuse. I was trying to move forward,” Rose said.
“I pretty much told the officer that what he’d done by calling me was a breach of the domestic violence order.
“I then spoke to my ex-partner, asked him how he got my number. I told him he knew it was a breach and was not allowed to call me ever again.”
Rose said the experience left her feeling unnerved and in need of further counselling.
She reported the telephone calls to Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) at the time but that did not deter her ex-partner, who went on to commit a second breach of the no-contact rule by writing letters to their toddler, and a letter to Rose.
He was eventually convicted of breaching the DFVO.
Rose’s case is one of many where QCS was unaware that a prisoner was subject to a DFVO.
Jailed repeat DV offenders to be held accountable
Now for the first time, the Domestic and Family Violence Project (DFVP) will enable prison authorities to have up to date and complete information on inmates who are subject to DFVOs, breaches or changes to conditions.
The project began in 2020 in a bid to improve information sharing between agencies to better manage domestic and family violence (DFV) perpetrators and support survivors, QCS said.
The QCS-led project will enable Queensland police, prisons, courts and parole authorities to fully share information, criminal histories and intelligence.
The information provides a complete profile of prison inmates and helps authorities criminally prosecute any domestic violence offences committed while in jail.
Before the project, QCS said there was “no ability” to be “proactively notified” if an inmate or offender had a current DFVO, if new orders had been issued against an inmate or if the conditions of an order had changed.
QCS Acting Deputy Commissioner of community corrections and specialist operations Samantha Newman said this made it difficult to identify prisoners breaching their DFVOs, including those who contact their victims while incarcerated.
Outgoing letters and emails from inmates subject to DFVOs are now reviewed and censored, Deputy Commissioner Newman said.
“Prisoners who are prohibited from sending and/or receiving mail from a non-approved person are subject to targeted “stop mail” lists,” she said.
Deputy Commissioner Newman said inmates who breach their orders by contacting victims are referred to Queensland detectives attached to the Corrective Services Investigation Unit for investigation and possible charges.
Ms Newman said as part of QCS’s “multi-prong” approach to domestic and family violence, relevant corrections officers undergo awareness training, and prisoners attend perpetrator programs to address violent behaviour.
Parole ‘game changer’ gives hope to victims of crime
The new system also means the Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) knows when assessing a prisoner if they have been or are subject to a DFVO.
The PBQ’s 2020-2021 annual report found described a “very disturbing trend” of prisoners perpetrating domestic violence from inside prison.
“There is zero tolerance for that type of offending,” the board said in its report.
In collaboration with police and corrections, the board said it led the way in implementing an intelligence assessment on parole applicants to target the “scourge” of prisoners who disregard the conditions of DFVOs.
“This has been a ‘game changer’ for the board in that it can now be equipped with a more complete picture when assessing a prisoner’s application for parole and the risk they pose to community safety,” the board said.
“It’s hoped these measures will provide strength and support to the victims of crime — that they can feel safer in the knowledge that the violence will stop while a prisoner is in jail, and that the prisoner will not be released to parole if it doesn’t.”
“While we continue to work to eliminate such incidents, the insidious nature of domestic and family violence means there will always be more to do to keep women safe, ” Deputy Commissioner Newman said.
She said the project was still being rolled out across Queensland prisons, with data being tested to ensure information is being transferred appropriately and accurately.
She said the QCS had adopted a “multi-pronged approach” when responding to DFV which included relevant officers undergoing awareness training and inmates attending perpetrator programs.
All information concerning DVOs is shared from courts across Queensland and fed into prisons’ Integrated Offender management System, the QCS said.
System won’t eliminate violence due to fear of reporting
Karyn Walsh, CEO of Micah Project, which runs the Brisbane domestic violence regional service, said the incarceration of offenders did not always guarantee victims were safe.
“The danger is not always mitigated by people being in prison … because depending on their connections and relationships, they can send friends and affiliates around to see what [spouses] are up to, and use violence against them or threaten them,” she said.
“And I mean physically assault women, sexually assault women … there’s been situations where that has occurred.”
Ms Walsh said over the last five years she was aware of four women who had been physically and or sexually assaulted in attacks organised by their former partners while incarcerated.
She said the women’s ex-partners had carried out their threats with outside help.
Ms Walsh said the women who were sexually assaulted were too terrified of their ex-partners to make formal complaints to authorities.
She said while the new system of information sharing had reduced some of the domestic violence being committed by prisoners, the project will not eliminate it.
“The information sharing is great but sometimes people can only act on the information they have to work with,” she said.
“Victims can be reluctant to report out of fear … we have to keep working with people to have confidence in the system.
As for Rose, she said she remained skeptical that the new system would be enough to fully protect survivors.
“The new project sounds promising, but I will need to see how it actually works on the ground, in reality,” she said.
“Hopefully [Queensland] Corrective Services will consult survivors of this abuse to make sure there are no cracks in the system.”
Ms Newman said QCS had a victims’ register where people could enquire about prisoner release dates.
She said people could access the register by phoning 1800 098 098 or emailing email@example.com.
*Names have been changed to protect identity