A prisoner peers through his cell door in Darcy 1 compound in D Block, at Sydney’s Silverwater Prison. Picture: Adam Taylor
A prisoner peers through his cell door in Darcy 1 compound in D Block, at Sydney’s Silverwater Prison. Picture: Adam Taylor

Prison guard warns the public: 'Sleep with one eye open’

WARNING: Graphic content

A PRISON officer has broken ranks to warn the public should "sleep with one eye open" because some of "the most dangerous inmates" are being released on parole prematurely.

The Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed "public safety is being compromised" because inmates are "often granted parole without completing required programs and before they are ready for reintegration".

"You, the public, should sleep with one eye open. The most dangerous inmates are being pumped out as fast as they can," he said.

The whistleblower said prison officers were supposed to "put case notes on our system when an inmate plays up and if you feel he is not ready for release" so the parole board can read it.

"But because of current and future staff deficiencies, staff don't have time to sit down and put case notes on, so the parole board doesn't see any notes, and therefore (believe) the inmate behaved and grant him parole," he said.

A NSW State Parole Authority (SPA) spokesperson told news.com.au the organisation "primarily rel(ied) on reports prepared by Community Corrections staff".

"(SPA) is required to ensure that the release of an offender to parole is in the interests of the safety of the community," the spokesperson said.

"Community Corrections staff utilise information gleaned from a number of sources including discussions with both custodial and non-custodial staff in correctional centres, case conference discussions and case notes placed on the database system by a number of different staff within CSNSW," the spokesperson told news.com.au.

"For the most serious offenders, the Serious Offenders Review Council must advise that it is appropriate for an offender to be released on parole."

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) executive director Don Weatherburn said there was a large increase in the number of offenders released on parole between 2014 and 2017.

"The average monthly number of offenders released on parole increased by 35 per cent, from 504 to 682 offenders (during that time)," he said in a statement last month.

BOCSAR found the prison population would have continued to rise if not for the increased paroles that offset it.

The Public Service Association (PSA) last year referred to the state's prison system as being "grossly overcrowded" and said it was housing 13,000 inmates despite being designed to accommodate 11,000. The NSW prison population increased 33 per cent between December 2011 and December 2016, but in the 12 months that followed it only increased by a further 0.7 per cent, according to BOCSAR.

The Bureau's data predicts little growth in the prison population over the next 12 months, which is expected to reach 13,244 by December 2018.

The source who spoke to news.com.au said inmates were in "more danger than anybody due to less direct supervision" amid staff shortages and overcrowding.

"Before most inmates get to prison, they have committed acts of unspeakable crimes," he said.

"But it doesn't stop at the gate, the crimes they commit against each other is beyond the imagination of any normal person.

"You couldn't think up most of this sick stuff."

His comments come after prisoner Alfredo Pengue, 54, was found bashed to death in Silverwater maximum security jail on February 9. A 44-year-old inmate has been charged with murder in relation to Pengue's death, according to NSW Police.

In a statement through lawyer, Diane Elston, Mr Pengue's family said they were "devastated" by the loss of their son and brother.

"His family await answers as to how his death occurred and why better security measures were not in place," Ms Elston said.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Corrections David Elliot said a joint Corrective Services and NSW Police investigation was under way. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a coronial investigation would determine the cause of death.

Prison trucks drive into the holding cell area before picking up prisoners and transferring them to either court or another prison. Picture: Adam Taylor
Prison trucks drive into the holding cell area before picking up prisoners and transferring them to either court or another prison. Picture: Adam Taylor

The NSW prison system is currently undergoing "a major reform program to lift standards, strengthen accountability and help meet the Government's commitment to reduce adult reoffending by five per cent by 2019", according to Corrective Services NSW.

A CSNSW spokeswoman said benchmarking was already being implemented at several NSW correctional centres, "and resulted in some changes to overall staffing levels" but that "at some sites, staffing levels have increased".

"Better policing and tougher sentencing have resulted in an unprecedented surge in inmate numbers, which is being addressed by hiring extra staff and a $3.8 billion NSW Government prison infrastructure program and a record $237 million in reducing reoffending programs," she said.

Prison Officers Vocational Branch spokesman Thor Sutherland, who is also a senior prison officer, said CSNSW was "creating jobs in some areas but not for uniform staff, meaning they don't cover the custodial positions cut".

The whistleblower echoed Mr Sutherland's sentiments and claimed "highly experienced staff" were being let off as part of the reforms. He claimed CSNSW's comments about job growth was "all smoke and mirrors".

"I recall ... a (maximum security) inmate was raping younger inmates, unbeknown to staff," he said.

"This inmate couldn't ejaculate unless he saw blood so he used to dig a piece of sharpened steel into the victim inmate's back until they bled.

"Or another inmate who was bashed beyond recognition with his brain matter all over the landing. Trust me when I tell you there are thousands of stories like this.

"I certainly wouldn't like to have a relative in prison at the moment."

Prison guards who spoke to news.com.au said further job cuts would amplify an imbalance of power under a "crumbling system" where "inmate rights" come first.

"Could you imagine a person who has (sexually assaulted a four-year-old girl) over a two-year period stand in front of you demanding their rights or they will write to the Commissioner?" the anonymous prison worker who spoke to news.com.au said.

"(Then being threatened by CSNSW) with suspension while you are investigated for not giving an inmate a blanket and toothpaste immediately after the inmate has demanded it and not an hour later?"

Prisoners walk laps over and over in the tiny 20m yard of the Darcy 1 compound in D Block at Silverwater Prison. Picture: Adam Taylor
Prisoners walk laps over and over in the tiny 20m yard of the Darcy 1 compound in D Block at Silverwater Prison. Picture: Adam Taylor

On Tuesday this week, a Bathurst Correctional Facility prison guard was "jammed up against a wall by an inmate then fainted" while trying to break up a fight.

News.com.au understands the worker was put on a stretcher and taken to hospital.

A CSNSW spokeswoman said officers went to the man's aid after he was injured.

"The officer was attempting to subdue an unruly inmate about 11am when he was believed to sustain a neck injury," she said.

"He was treated at the scene before being taken to hospital as a precaution."

The officer "was discharged a short time later and is expected to return to duty this weekend" and the incident was reported to police.

Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin said "frontline officers do a difficult job and a dangerous job at times".

"These officers showed how they stick together to show bravery, dedication and commitment," he said.

Prison Officers Vocational Branch (POVB) Vice Chair and union official Jason Charlton described the workplace reforms as "the biggest job cuts in our history despite the fact that inmate numbers are at their highest".

"We are placing inmates on the floors and keeping them housed in local police stations to get through the bed crisis," Mr Charlton told news.com.au.

 

A prison guard walks the corridors of Silverwater Correctional Facility in western Sydney. Picture: Adam Taylor
A prison guard walks the corridors of Silverwater Correctional Facility in western Sydney. Picture: Adam Taylor

The state government has introduced "Rapid Build Prisons" as part its prison infrastructure program to address the state's rising prison population.

Two Rapid Build Prisons have already been unveiled in recent months, following about 12 months of intense construction.

"Since September 2016, we have increased capacity by more than 1000 beds by reopening and expanding existing centres, as well as building two new 400-bed maximum-security prisons in Cessnock and Wellington," the CSNSW spokeswoman said.

But the state opposition said "pop-up" prisons - including the one that opened in Wellington last year - were plagued with problems, including security issues.

"Band-aid solutions won't work," Opposition corrections spokesman Guy Zangari said in a statement last month.

"Minister for Corrections David Elliott has lost control of the corrections portfolio, leaving him scrambling to fix all the problems that have happened under his leadership."


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