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'No silver bullet' in law and order debate: prisons boss

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With Queensland prisons over capacity, Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Martin believes it is a good time to consider how people got there.

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New data presented to parliament shows five of the 12 secure custody facilities in Queensland were running at more than 100 per cent capacity in May. Lotus Glen in far north Queensland was running at 114 per cent capacity, and Arthur Gorrie in Brisbane at 108 per cent, albeit down from the 121 per cent level recorded in January.

Martin said, overall, corrective services was running at 130 per cent of built capacity, however a new southern Queensland facility under construction, extra capacity in Capricornia, and retrofitting cells to better accommodate two prisoners would help manage numbers.

The capacity issue has arisen not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also ahead of the October 31 election, where law and order, and youth offending, has already become the subject of political debate.

Martin said it was important to build for future capacity – he was grateful for the projects already funded – and also examine the policy levers than control the number of people likely to join the more than 9000 already in Queensland jails.

In an interview with InQueensland for an upcoming article, Martin acknowledged that being over capacity had presented challenges when it came to social distancing. However, he said there had been an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination between corrective services, police and the courts, all acting on health advice.

Over the longer term, Martin argued that level of cooperation, and ensuring the system worked better as a whole, had greater capacity to reduce crime than any isolated push for more police, tougher laws sentences or bigger jails.

“It’s a difficult issue and it’s a challenging issue and the one thing I know is that there is absolutely no silver bullet,” Martin said of the law and order debate.

“There is huge complexity around this issue.”

Having been a police officer for 38 years, and in charge of corrections for three years, Martin said he was in a privileged position to have seen both ends of the criminal justice system.

“Certainly from my perspective, knowing what I know now about corrections I probably might very well have approached policing a little differently,” Martin told InQueensland.

“I think that arresting somebody is one measure, and there is a time and a place for that, but a whole range of other interventions (are necessary, such as) therapeutic interventions, the use of community cautioning, the use of whatever you can do to get to the heart of the issues that somebody confronts, whether it is drug addiction, unemployment, abject poverty, homelessness.

“These are the things that otherwise keep people out of the police and broader criminal justice system and they’re important investments to make if we really want to stop people into the system working their way through to the part of the system that I’ve got responsibility for.”

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