The rising numbers of makeshift weapons being found at the Canberra prison, combined with the pressure-cooker atmosphere created by overcrowding, is placing corrections staff at risk.
Correctional officers fearing retribution from senior management have sent anonymous correspondence to The Canberra Times about the increasingly volatile atmosphere within the jail.
The correspondence was shown to a senior, front-line corrections officer and the Community and Public Sector Union, which have independently confirmed the accuracy of the claims.
The union says officers have reported "a significant increase in the number of weapons being found inside the prison, and a rise in the number of violent incidents where they're being used".
In a four-page hand-written statement, prison inmate Isa Islam whose marathon 81-day hunger strike ended recently when he breached parole and returned to Canberra jail, revealed how a weekly jail food "buy-up" purchased steel-cased tuna cans which prisoners refashioned into cutting blades.
"I was attacked by an inmate from behind wielding a steel can as a cutting weapon," Islam said.
"It cut my face badly and resulted in stitches to me."
"A few weeks later another inmate attacked me with a sharpened sardine can and resulted in me getting 14 stitches."
Islam said both incidents were captured on the prison's CCTV but no police investigation resulted.
CCTV coverage in the prison has been upgraded following the Moss inquiry which examined the death in custody of indigenous remandee Stephen Freeman on April 27, 2015.
Separate correspondence from a corrections officer, its authenticity verified by another serving officer, described how "earlier this year a prisoner armed himself with two shivs and set his cell on fire".
"This led to one officer having his bicep torn from his bone, another twisting his ankle and a third getting smoke inhalation.
"Three officers in hospital, fortunately the prisoner baulked at slashing [them] with the shivs."
"Previously a prisoner in a fight got cut too many times with a shiv, one cut going to the bone in his leg quadricep, another almost disembowelling him.
"Another time two prisoners tried to kill another another by attempting to cut his throat and femoral artery."
The CPSU's regional secretary Madeline Northam described the weapons breaches within the prison as "a really serious issue and officers need more help to deal with it for their safety, and the safety of inmates".
"That doesn't just mean dealing violent incidents as and after they're happening, but being able to stop them happening in the first place".
"Staff believe the disciplinary system for inmates is sadly inadequate and is an inadequate deterrent to misbehaviour. Segregation, for example, isn't seen as a hardship at all for inmates."
The union's view is supported in a member's statement which said that "no prisoner gets more than a week for breaching rules and hardly any even get this; the management unit is kept artificially empty".
The union says that the overcrowded conditions and a shortage of staff are compounding problems at the jail.
It says the jail needs "at least an extra 60 correctional officers to provide adequate cover" because the prison's staffing profile "hasn't kept up as [prison] capacity has increased".
Staff at the prison have not negotiated a new enterprise agreement because they say the ACT government wants to remove the emergency duty allowance.
The union wants the allowance retained because it is "essential to providing adequate officer coverage when the prison is short staffed".
"It's ridiculous that the government won't hire enough staff and yet wants to strip away a key measure that allows the prison to cover for that shortfall," the union said.
"The bottom line is the government has expended the capacity of the prison while chipping away at the resources needed to run it safely and effectively. The smooth running [of the prison} is being taken for granted, despite this growing number of serious issues."
One of the key recommendations of the Moss inquiry, and agreed in principle by the government, was that police "accord a higher priority to the investigation of any assault at the prison".
However, in its response to the recommendations, ACT Corrections said that it would "exercise its discretion" to refer "minor" matters to police.
The ACT government has acknowledged the claims made by the union and encouraged the raising of prison issues "through formal channels".
A spokesperson for the justice and community safety directorate said that "discussion are ongoing and we continue to engage proactively with the union as part of these negotiations."
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