Prison officer ‘disciplined’ for protesting faulty van

A serving prison officer in Queensland says he was disciplined and investigated for refusing to transport prisoners during soaring summer temperatures, in a van that did not have an operating air conditioner.

Hans Anderson says he refused to continue to drive the vehicle after the men in the back suffered heat stroke and one prisoner fell unconscious.

Mr Anderson has been driving prison vans for the Queensland Department of Corrective Services for almost a decade.

He says the shocking situation of a man dying from heat stroke while being transported in a prison van is not just a problem in Western Australia.

There have been close calls in Queensland as well.

“The air conditioning system wasn’t working, we had the windows open, but the system wasn’t working,” Mr Anderson said.

“The offender was collapsed and unconscious in the compartment on the floor and I opened it and tried to bring him around and I talked to my partner to get us medical assistance.

“We got a wheelchair and I got water to the other offenders that were in the truck, which they were suffering heat exhaustion.

“It scared me. He was unconscious. When I first saw him I thought he was gone.”

Mr Anderson says the incident happened in January last year.

He says his supervisor instructed him to continue on with the journey, despite the state of the inmate’s health.

“I got on the mobile and conveyed what had occurred to my supervisor, who then asked me to return to the centre, with the same vehicle with the same prisoners on board,” he said.

He says he refused the orders to drive on.

“I know that if we continued the journey, if I had done what I was ordered to do, there could have been a fatality,” he said.

“I mean they are fellow human beings and I’m very wary of their safety.”

He reported the incident the following day and says he was disciplined and taken off driving duties for the next month.

The Queensland Department of Corrective Services says no disciplinary action was taken and that he simply had a roster change.

A spokesman says the officer and his manager were cleared of any wrong doing.

The department also disputes claims that the prisoner was unconscious.


Potential for disaster


But Gordon Murray, an organiser with the Queensland Public Sector Union, says the situation could have been just as disastrous as the case in Western Australia.

“The air conditioner was there but it had failed earlier in the day and they continued to transport the prisoners, in the middle of summer,” he said.

“Very close, confined situation with little air flow, you can imagine the level of stress that anybody would be under.”

In Queensland, prison vans are owned and operated by the state, whereas In Western Australia, vehicles are managed by a private contractor.

Mr Murray says Queensland prison vans are generally well-maintained but improvements could be made.

“When they know that a vehicle has got a fault then it should be simply taken out of service so it reduces the risk to all parties involved,” he said.

“Nobody wants to be placed in a situation where they could be implicated in causing a death of an inmate.”

The Queensland Corrective Services Minister has announced a review of the state’s prisoner transport system.



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