• There are reports of overcrowding at Brisbane Women?s Correctional Centre in Queensland. (AAP)Source: AAP
Serco was running the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre as a male prison, but it will now be the state's first women's private prison.
Brooke Fryer

30 Aug 2018 - 12:56 PM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2018 - 12:56 PM

Transfers from Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre to Southern Queensland Correctional Centre near Gatton have begun, making the centre the state's first private prison for women.

But prison advocacy group Sisters Inside is concerned Serco has been marketing their Gatton facility to women inmates in order to fill the 180 capacity.

CEO Debbie Kilroy says she was alarmed to hear from women at the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre in Wacol that Serco representatives had met with them.

“Women's lives and bodies are not a commodity for the profit or the benefit of multinational corporations,” she said.

According to Serco's Corporate Affairs Director Tim Evans, these were just 'information sessions'.

“Serco has attended information sessions conducted by the department at Brisbane Women’s Facility (BWCC), and when invited, has answered questions about the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC)," he said in a statement.

"Serco has absolutely no say on who might be moved to SQCC and cannot ‘sign up’ anyone.” 

The Queensland Department of Corrective Services confirmed to NITV News Serco was invited into the prison to provide information about the services 'on offer' at the new facility, and said some women have 'requested' transfer.

However Ms Kilroy questions the company's human rights record and what this might mean for woman inmates, as Serco has been a major player in the running of Australia's immigration detention centres.

“My greatest concerns are the lack of oversight of Serco, and the delay in putting in place essential, independent support services for women at Gatton,” said Ms Kilroy.

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“The Minister must keep his promise to women that they will have all of the same support services at Gatton that are currently available to them at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre.”

While Ms Kilroy acknowledges overcrowding is a concern, she believes the new private women's prison isn't the solution.

“It's sad that women's needs are being used to justify this decision when the state government has absolutely failed to act for years on overcrowding, and the rising numbers of women in prison,” she said.

In 2016 a Queensland Ombudsman report found overcrowding at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre was so severe there was one inmate sleeping on the floor.

I know that you want relief from overcrowding, but Southern Queensland Correctional Centre is still a prison. Nothing changes if nothing changes," Ms Kilroy said. 

The department acknowledged conditions at the prison are a key issue, saying the Serco-run facility will improve the situation.

"It will resolve overcrowding for years to come, get women off the floor, and provide them with more access to health care and support services, vocational and educational training," a department spokesperson said in a statement. 

"Serco attended BWCC to provide a first-hand account of SQCC and the services, programs and support on offer to the women."

The spokesperson said some women have requested moving to the Serco-run facility.

"We make every effort to keep prisoners close to their families, and the conversion of SQCC will allow women from the southwest of Queensland to be closer to their families and country. A number of women in Brisbane and Townsville requested moves to SQCC for this reason." 

The spokesperson said transfers are expected to be completed by the end of October, and that women on remand will mostly remain at BWCC to be close to the courts.

Serco was previously operating the facility as a men's prison, but the centre had been originally designed as a women's prison. 

In recent months, male inmates have been moved to Borallon Correctional Centre which has been expanded.

Indigenous women increasingly incarcerated

Indigenous women disproportionately fill prisons across the nation.

Despite Indigenous women being just 2 per cent of the population, they make up 34 per cent of women inmates across the country according to a 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission report

And since 1991, incarceration rates for Indigenous women have outpaced those for Indigenous men and non-Indigenous women.

Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2010 found that Indigenous women were over five times more likely to be arrested for summary offences than non-Indigenous women. 

Jackie Huggins, Co-chair of The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, told NITV News unpaid fines is a key issue. 

“[Things] as simple as not having a licence, driving an unregistered vehicle, crimes of poverty like stealing, social security and fraud which is often happening when Aboriginal people don’t have enough money to support their families,” said Ms Huggins.

“There is a lot of structural racism where our women can’t get jobs, access to services. We really need to look at the causal factors which creates [this high rate] incarceration and provide support to those women [and] to stop them going into prison in the first place.” 

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