The cunning methods prisoners use to smuggle contraband


Contraband in Queensland prisons includes snakes, alcohol, porn and weapons


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VIDEO: Former inmate Larry Campbell describes how a ball can be used as a tool and a weapon in jail. (ABC News)

Snakes, bottles of alcohol and a Samsung tablet were smuggled into Queensland’s prisons last financial year, with authorities seizing nearly 3,000 contraband items.

Contraband items seized:

  • Tattoo guns
  • ‘Shivs’/weapons
  • Tobacco
  • Prison ‘brew’
  • Pornographic material
  • Lighters
  • USB sticks
  • Mobile phones
  • Slingshot
  • Samsung tablet
  • Credit cards
  • Headphones
  • Jack Daniels and Bundaberg Rum bottles
  • Scissors
  • Cash

Source: Queensland Corrective Services

Documents obtained by the ABC under Right to Information laws reveal the cunning methods prisoners used to obtain and hide precious objects, including homemade weapons, drugs and pornography.

In May, a “major security incident” was sparked at the Woodford Correctional Centre, north of Brisbane, when authorities discovered a miniature mobile phone, syringes, steroids and a prisoner’s debt collection list in a cell.

Inside the secure section of the Wolston Correctional Centre, staff found a mock handgun, which was made of hard black cardboard and described as appearing to be “realistic”.

Two pythons kept in plastic containers were also located at the low-security Townsville Correctional Centre farm in prisoner accommodation.

Apart from drugs, makeshift tattoo guns, weapons and “prison brews” were among the most common items seized.

Several prisoners cut the fingers off rubber gloves, using them to store drugs or urine in order to pass drug tests.

Some created makeshift weapons by fashioning “shivs” out of sharpened spoons and toothbrushes, others stuck razor blades in between popsicle sticks, and prisoner had a sock full of tuna cans that could be used to strike fellow inmates.

Perhaps the most bizarre item located was described by authorities as a “chapstick smeared with faeces”.

Most contraband was found inside prison cells, although numerous discoveries were made during strip searches, the documents show.

Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) said there were 2,975 contraband incidents in the 2016-17 financial year, at a rate of 36.6 incidents per 100 prisoners. It was an increase of 3 per cent on the previous year.

In a prison, anything can be traded

Larry Campbell, who spent time in Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail five decades ago, said contraband could buy you favours and influence in prison.

“It could be clothes, it could be a person, it could be tobacco, drugs — anything you can imagine,” Mr Campbell said.

Mr Campbell, 74, now conducts tours of the former prison and recalled how pornographic magazines were “like gold”.

“I could hire them out at a packet of tobacco a night and they’d have to give it back to me — sometimes in disrepair and I’d be very angry,” he said.

He said friends on the outside would hurl tennis balls filled with contraband over the prison fence and guards would be none the wiser.

But Mr Campbell said prison guards would also bring in contraband in order to keep the peace.

He believed the practice would be continuing today due to drugs and prisoners having more money.

‘Incredibly difficult’ to stop all contraband

QCS commissioner Peter Martin said there was “absolutely no tolerance” for corrupt guards and believed the number was “extremely low”.

He also said prison visitors had to pass X-rays, metal detectors and be checked by sniffer dogs.

Mr Martin said the increased rate of detections last financial year suggested authorities were doing their job.

“I’m not surprised by the numbers that I’m seeing, but what it shows is how creative people are to try breach our barriers into our safe and secure facilities,” he said.

“It is an incredibly difficult task to stop every prohibited substance and every prohibited item from entering a correctional facility.”

Mr Martin, who was appointed to the top job last year after a lengthy career with the Queensland Police Service, said one of his top priorities would be to reduce overcrowding in Queensland’s prisons, which currently house more than 8,000 inmates.

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