SOUTH Australia’s prisoners have gone into lockdown, amid allegations corrections officials have improperly recorded phone calls between guards and union representatives.
Guards at all of the state-run adult prisons met this morning and voted in favour of locking down the jails.
Public Service Association officials and the Corrections Department met at 10.30am and will meet again at 3pm to attempt to resolve the dispute.
The department is seeking legal advice in the interim.
Correctional Services Department chief executive David Brown said the dispute between his department and the prison officers’ union stemmed from “an oversight”.
“The matter relates to a long standing practice at an institution, where I have been advised that meetings are recorded, with the knowledge of all present, to assist with the preparation of minutes,” he said, in a written statement.
“It would appear that other parties may have joined the meeting at times via teleconference, and therefore may not have been informed the meetings were being recorded for the above purpose. “If this is the case, it is clearly an oversight and is not a practice that is endorsed by the Department.
“I have immediately placed on hold an internal investigation that refers to these recordings, to allow the Department to seek advice with respect to its conduct.”
The lockdown of the state’s prisons has caused delays in court proceedings.
Prisoners remanded in custody have been unable to be moved to their court hearings.
The sentencing of convicted murderer Peter James August Fryer was adjourned until next week after he was unable to be moved to the Supreme Court for the hearing on Tuesday morning.
The lockdown has also impacted on other court cases involving prisoners, including those being heard via video link at the Adelaide Magistrates Court.
The Public Service Association, which represents SA prison guards, says it has been informed Correctional Services management has recorded telephone link ups between union officers and departmental officials without their express or implied consent.
The union claims the behaviour is “totally inappropriate” and potentially illegal.
PSA senior industrial officer Simon Johnson said the nature of the allegedly recorded conversation could not be revealed without breaching the privacy of individuals involved.
“This is a critical issue. Discussions between the parties must occur in good faith,” he said.
“Audio recording of conversations, without consent or knowledge, is deceitful, unethical, and also potentially illegal as defined by the Listening and Surveillance Act 1972.”
He said he rejects the department’s claim that the recordings were an oversight.
“We do not accept that view, I find that a bit lame. I think it’s a cop out and I don’t accept that and I have made that clear to the department.”
The union says it is seeking further advice on the legality of recording.
The lockdown could continue until an explanation, apology and guarantee the practice will not recur is delivered by the Government. The union is also seeking assurances that “any action against members arising from recordings is stopped”.
Mr Johnson said “a strong message needs to be sent” to the department.
He said the lockdown will remain in place for as long as needed.
“We do what we’ve got to do, the department has caused this, no one else has,” he said.
“We will protect our rights and our members’ rights.”
The lockdown is the latest controversy to rock the state’s troubled prison system, amid ongoing concern about the impact of overcrowding on guards and inmates.
Inmate numbers have jumped 10 per cent in the past year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports 2488 people were imprisoned in SA on June 30, 222 more than 12 months prior.
The rate of imprisonment has also hit a 10-year peak, with one in 532 South Australians in jail.
Police Commissioner Gary Burns has revealed he attempted to bill the corrections department for the use of holding cells after they were used to manage a lack of prison beds in January.
Corrections Minister Tony Piccolo plans to open an extra 380 prisoner beds by 2018.
This includes $115.9 million to build two 112-bed accommodations units — one to open at the Port Augusta Prison in 2017 and another at Mt Gambier Prison in 2018.
A further $51.7 million will be spent adding 156 beds across the system this financial year.
See original article: SA Prisons go into lockdown