The Women’s Correctional Centre at Wacol does not have enclosed walkways, unlike the men’s prisons.
The Women’s Correctional Centre at Wacol does not have enclosed walkways, unlike the men’s prisons. Rob Williams

Lessons in life on the inside

NOT-SO-SWEET HOME: Correctional Centre at Wacol.
NOT-SO-SWEET HOME: Correctional Centre at Wacol. Rob Williams

IT LOOKS more like a college campus than a jail but, make no mistake, the lessons taught at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre in Wacol have more significance than anything you'll learn at university.

There are no orange jumpsuits or barred cells with sliding doors, nor is the atmosphere tense or sinister. In fact, it's peaceful - even serene.

Yet the quiet belies the underlying drama.

Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives are locked up within these walls, some for the rest of their lives; women locked up for a range of crimes, including murder.

It was the first time I had set foot inside a high-security prison.

I had been invited to tour the facility by general manager Kate Holman.

After being escorted through some airport-style security, followed by several thick steel doors, we reach the inner sanctum.

Between some separated buildings is a small courtyard, fitness area, tennis court, sporting field, and a herb and vegetable garden.

Prisoners chat quietly among themselves as they go about their work.

Ms Holman pointed out that the design of this centre was different from that of Queensland's male prison facilities.

"Women are a different risk profile to men, and the facility reflects that," she said.

"For example, Brisbane Women's does not have enclosed walkways as women do not require the same restricted movement as men."

The facility has 261 permanent beds, divided into two accommodation areas: secure cells and residential cells.

The secure blocks are designed for those women with greater levels of risk.

Prisoners in those blocks have more restrictions. They can access common areas and exercise yards during the day, but are secured in their cells at night.

The residential area is different. Prisoners there have unit-style accommodation and greater independence.

NOT BAD EITHER: Accommodation is divided into secure cells and residential cells.
NOT BAD EITHER: Accommodation is divided into secure cells and residential cells. Rob Williams

They have their own bedrooms and share a communal space, which they can access at night.

"This accommodation is designed to assist them transition back to the community, with a greater level of responsibility for their own schedule and attendance at appointments during the day," Ms Holman said.

Next to the residential units is a children's playground, which strikes me as being out of place given the surroundings.

But Ms Holman explained the purpose-built area could accommodate up to eight women who are allowed to have their children live with them until school age.

"At Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre we currently have eight pregnant women and one mother and child," she said.

"The mothers with children unit is part of the residential accommodation area.

A look inside the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre at Wacol.
A look inside the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre at Wacol. Rob Williams

"The rooms are bigger, the furniture is child friendly and the amenities area includes a child's bath."

Ms Holman said it was important prisoners became productive citizens for when they left.

"So giving them work-ready skills is very important as is the independent living skills and addressing some of the causing factors for their crime," she said.

Programs and services include vocational education and training courses to increase prisoners' skills and qualifications, such as tertiary preparation, horticulture and hospitality.

Other programs address the causes of a prisoner's offending, community agency programs and transitional programs to assist in preparing prisoners for release to the community.

"These programs and services are at the heart of rehabilitation," Ms Holman said.



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