Inmates at a Townsville jail could sue the Qld government after the ombudsman found staff had conducted unlawful strip searches for 10 months.

Female prisoners at a north Queensland jail could sue the state government over unlawful strip searches.

The practice, which took place over a 10-month period to March this year, equated to abuse by the state, says Debbie Kilroy from support group Sisters Inside.

A Queensland ombudsman’s investigation has found the Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre conducted unlawful and unreasonable strip searches on inmates who were receiving controlled medications.

Ms Kilroy says the result is unsurprising.

“We could find pockets of our prison system where the same unlawful practice is happening. This is one area,” Ms Kilroy told AAP.

“We actually need to expose what’s happening on a daily basis across our prison system because this is abuse. This is sexual assault by the state.”

At least 18 Townsville inmates were searched both before and after they were given their restricted medication until the practice was dropped because of a complaint.

Ombudsman Phil Clarke has recommended refresher training for staff at the centre and a review of the oversight mechanisms of Queensland Corrective Services (QCS), which failed to detect the problem.

Ms Kilroy says the ombudsman’s findings could clear the way for a lawsuit against QCS.

She said the women subjected to the searches were predominantly Aboriginal and most could not read or write.

“We need the women to obviously lead that action…they may not want to take this any further. It’s a matter for them.”