Weekly fights and attacks on prison guards, including a recent incident where an officer was strangled by an inmate, are commonplace at one of NSW’s most dangerous prisons.
Parklea Correctional Facility oversees about 1100 inmates, including maximum security prisoners and men awaiting remand, however rostering can see staff drop to 36 officers on a weekend.
With the state’s worst rates for serious assaults on officers, more than 150 staff at the privately-operated jail began a 72-hour strike at 6am on Wednesday over fears for their safety and poor pay, which has led to an exodus of staff.
An inside look of a violent uprising inside Parklea Correction Centre, one of the NSW’s toughest jails. Picture: 7NewsMore than 150 officers from Parklea Prison have gone on strike for 72 hours. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard
In November, clinic officer Paul, who has been working at Parklea for three years, was allegedly attacked by a prisoner while trying to transfer the man’s cellmate to another area.
Alone at the time, he wasn’t able to immediately report a Code Black (an industry term for noncompliance or aggression among inmates), as staffing issues meant he was unaccompanied.
“He attacked me, and we fell onto the ground,” he alleged to NCA NewsWire.
“Somehow we got back up and he sprung onto the wall. I eventually managed to get him restrained and resecured back in the cell and then call the Code Black, but it goes back to the fact that we were short staffed.”
The inmate has been charged over the alleged attack and remains before the court.
Parklea prison has the worst rates of serious assaults on officers. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ James Gourley
Paul said instead of having their normal five staff, his section only had three officers looking after 36 volatile inmates at the clinic, which oversees prisoners when they’re first incarcerated.
Clinic staff are regularly placed in compromising situations, he said.
“The ones who are detoxing from drugs, they’ll be kicking and bashing the door and threatening to assault nursing staff and officers,” he says.
“You’ve got ones who’ll cover themselves in faeces, and throw left over food, faeces or cups of urine under the door, or when you open the meal hatch.”
Three years into working at Parklea, Paul says the emotional toll has made him “bleak” about a job he otherwise finds rewarding.
“It’s dangerous but you do what you have to do,” he said.
“The workload just builds and builds and you’re at a worse state the next day so you just try to push through and get it done.”
Parklea Correctional Officer, Cliff Caddy said an officer was strangled by an inmate just last week. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard
Fellow Parklea officer Cliff Caddy described an incident that occurred just last week after an inmate wasn’t allowed into the yard.
“The inmate tried to push away and he strangled one of the officers until another officer came. That was a weekend, when the staffing is under a third of a normal day,” he said.
He estimates officer assaults, and fights among inmates occur at least once a week, with at least six occurring in February this year alone.
Paul says there’s no doubt prisoners took advantage of reduced staff which gave them “more opportunity to play up, or move contraband,” like drugs.
‘It’s not safe:’ Officer describes terrifying prison riot
In July 2021, 41 prisoners rioted against officers, with 14 inmates escaping onto the roof using makeshift rope made out of bedding.
An officer working that day, who asked not to be named, said staff were forced to retreat after inmates began lighting fires inside the wing. The four hour standoff, ended after specialist officers from Corrective Services NSW quelled prisoners, however inmates had already caused $8m worth of damage.
“It’s scary because when you’re on the ground, you think you’ve got a rapport with the inmates and then something like this happens and you realise you don’t,” they said.
“It’s not safe. There’s not enough staff on the ground and it’s very confronting.
The officer said the wing where the riot broke out was one of the “most volatile areas in the jail”.
“A lot of the time staff refused to work in that area because of how unsafe it was,” they said.
Special officers from Corrective Services NSW were bought in to quell the riot. Picture: 7News
Unions call for pay increase
Unlike other jails like Long Bay Correctional Complex and Goulburn Correctional Centre, which are operated by Corrective Services NSW, Parklea is contracted under US multinational MTC.
Community and Public Sector Union general secretary Stewart Little said prison staff at Parklea were some of the lowest paid in the state, and called for a 3.5 per cent annual pay increase. This would still put Parklea officers 25 per cent under wages offered by the public sector.
Without weekend, or evening loading, or overtime entitlements, Mr Little said Parklea officers earned $50,000 less than their government counterparts, who could earn up to $120,000.
Public Service Association General Secretary Stewart Little said Parklea prison officers deserved a minimum 3.5 per cent annual salary increase. Picture: NewsWire/ Monique Harmer
Experienced officers were resigning to go to government-operated prisons for better pay and the promise of “safer conditions”. In the past year alone, Mr Little said 10 per cent of the workforce had resigned.
“MTC are paying 25 per cent less than the public sector and they think people are just going to go in there in a difficult dangerous facility like Parklea,” said Mr Little.
Mr Little also accused the NSW Minister for Corrections, Geoff Lee, who is retiring after the March 25 state election, of “knocking off” early on the job, and called on Premier Dominic Perrottet to intervene.
NCA NewsWire understands the current government is unable to intervene in salary negotiations for staff, as they are employed by MTC.
“Taxpayer money is being spent to support this contract and what the private providers are doing is squeezing these officers’ salaries and sending that money back to the US,” said Mr Little.
“That is taxpayer money and it should be spent on the front line.”
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