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How Overcrowded Prisons Can Fuel The Drug Trade On The Inside

More drugs and increased prisoner violence are a direct symptom of jails filling up, experts warn -- as Australian prisons become more overcrowded.

The average prison population in Queensland has increased by 43 percent in the last five years according to the state's Crime and Corruption Commission (QCCC).

The NSW prison population has risen from around 10,000 in 2013 up to over 13,370 as of October 2018.

That's a 34 percent population increase in the space of five years.

"Going to the toilet, using the shower, everything's a lot more crowded,"  a Sydney prison officer, who declined to be named, told 10 daily.

"In a cell where you have the bunk bed generally and you have a walkway next to it in the cell, there'd now be another mattress,"

Prisons numbers in New South Wales have risen by over a third in five years. (Image AAP)

Experts say overcrowded prisons leads to increased stress levels inside the facility -- which sparks more problems.

“Not surprisingly they (prisoners) are constantly embroiled in tensions and physical battles, and of course drugs,” Brett Collins, the coordinator of Justice Action, told ten daily.

Two-thirds of Australian prisoners report using illicit drugs in the 12 months before they entered prison, compared with 12% of the general population in the previous year.

Around half of prisoners are likely to meet the criteria for substance dependence.

READ MORE: Prison Population Decline Gives 'Breathing Space' To Swamped Legal System

READ MORE: ICAC Investigates Prison Officers Who Assaulted An Inmate

In Queensland's prisons, around one third of inmates have contracted communicable diseases, while the mental health situation is even worse according to the QCCC.

These inmates are nine times more likely than the general population to use anti-psychotic drugs.

“In days gone by you might have had one psychologist looking after 50 inmates, now you’ve got one psychologist looking after 200 or 300 inmates,” said the prison officer.

This sort of overcrowding also means that different prisoners are thrown together, putting some in significant danger.

Prison population sorted by offence in the September 2018 quarterly update. (Image NSW BOCSAR)

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research ,41 percent of prisoners were incarcerated in relation to homicide, sexual assault or actions intended to cause injury.

They might be coming into close contact with white-collar criminals who aren't violent offenders, making them easy targets.

The overcrowding has also led to a significant problem with drugs in prisons, the prison guard said, which can be a danger not only to prisoners and the guards assigned to watch over them.

“I’ve seen it where it’s a very little person, very small in stature, but it can take up to nine or 10 officers to control this person because their strength is doubled or tripled while they’re on ice,” said the prison officer.

More prisoners means more visitors, and therefore more chance for illicit substances to be smuggled into jails.

10 daily has been told, there are a variety of ways in which inmates can gain access to drugs, one of which being during 'contact visits' with friends or family.

“If I was visiting someone I’d place a balloon in my mouth," the prison officer said.

Drugs are regularly smuggled in during visits. (Image AAP)

"A small little party balloon, I’d kiss, the other person would swallow it, a couple of days later it’d come out in the toilet, there you go."

He also said if Australia prohibits inmates and their visitors from making physical contact during visits, it would have a significant impact on the drug trade. 

The demand for drugs can also lead to dangerous relationships between inmates.

"The weakness of those who are drug affected is exploited by others unfortunately," Collins said.

Feature Image AAP

Contact the author: mgay@networkten.com.au