Crackdown on ‘disturbing trend’ of Queensland prison inmates perpetrating domestic violence from behind bars

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.

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.

Rose says correctional staff were not aware of the domestic and family violence order that forbid her ex-partner from contacting her.(ABC News: Cameron Lang)

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.

Staff escort prisoners through Lotus Glen Correctional Centre in far north Queensland.
The new system shares information between police and prison staff on any breaches of inmate’s domestic and family violence orders. (AAP/Human Rights Watch, Daniel Soekov)

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.

Letters blurred.
Mail that is sent by a prison inmate to a “non-approved person” is now referred to intelligence officers.(ABC News: Cameron Lang)

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.

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