Thursday, June 5, 2003

High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) INSPECTION

This letter is to request permission for an independent inspection team to examine the 75-cell HRMU at Goulburn Jail. The proposed inspection team consists of specialist doctors, jurists, members of the Corrections Health Service Consumer Council and prisoners representatives.

All are professionals and highly respected in the community. This request follows multiple reports of; arbitrary assignment to the unit, self-harm and mutilation, desperation, hunger strikes, sensory deprivation, psychological damage to prisoners held there, and conditions which fall below levels required under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Justice Action, as part of the Criminal Justice Coalition, was offered the opportunity to consult with Corrective Services in the design of the HRMU by the present Commissioner, Mr. Ron Woodham. Unfortunately, this invitation was not facilitated and as a result, we have no accurate, independent information on conditions inside the unit to allay community concerns.

The Alternatives

Had JA been given the opportunity to consult, we would have proposed a design based on the Barlinnie Special Unit in Scotland. Barlinnie was developed as a social and humane response to the escalating cycle of violentm confrontation between prisoners and guards which was spinning out of control at Inverness prison. Barlinnie was described by the NSW Government as a:

Special long term unit for violent inmates offers high levels of privileges (e.g. unlimited visiting facilities), greater prisoner autonomy, input into running unit, contact with non-criminal outsiders, education and art programs, community meetings, and supportive staff-inmate relationship. Immediate expulsion from the unit for any physical violence. (Lawlink, Programs and Approaches to Reduce Prison Violence).

In his analysis of Barlinnie as an alternative to the Inverness cages, which operated under the same philosophy as the HRMU, Alistair Thomson wrote, (Barlinnie) has the wholehearted support of the Scottish Prison Officers Association.

It has arguably contributed to a reduction of tension in other prisons by isolating some of the system's worst troublemakers; it has allowed many of these difficult prisoners to cope with their long sentences in a positive manner and in several instances has facilitated an earlier return to the outside community than otherwise might have been expected. In a word, it has provided an alternative means of managing difficult prisoners. (Current International Trends in Corrections, 1988, p. 125)

The Special Care Unit (SCU) at Long Bay Correctional Centre was inspired by Barlinnie. The SCU was opened in 1981 to replace the Observation Unit, which was strongly criticised by the Nagle Report. The SCU was closed in 1997 because of lack of record-keeping which could give a measure of effectiveness.

The SCU was replaced by the Four-Stage Violence Prevention Program, which is housed within the Metropolitan Special Programs Centre (MSPC). The former Inspector General for NSW, Lindsay LeCompte commented, "At the Metropolitan Special Programs Centre (MSPC), for example, the Department has achieved considerable success with the programs that are being delivered there, due to the ability of that centre to concentrate its efforts and resources on focused strategies." (Report of an Inspection of Mulawa Correctional Centre 2002).

The key distinction between the Barlinnie model and the HRMU would appear to be in the degree of management directed by the prisoners themselves as opposed to direction by the Department. The operating philosophy of the SCU was, "Freedom with responsibility: responsibility to self and community." (Dr. Schwartz, Special Care Unit, Philosophy, Procedures and Achievements.)

Allowing prisoners to direct their own activity and choose their own community solves many problems for prisoners, officers, and the community they both return to when they leave the prison. When prisoners are able to choose their associates, it immediately reduces the incidents of rape, fights and the resentment of staff that can lead to riots. The officers chosen to staff the Barlinnie Special Unit were also volunteers. Ken Murray, one of the officers involved in the Barlinnie project said,

"the methods that we introduced into the Unit are based on a very simple attitude, that being that we should speak to the prisoners and suggest to them that we should, together find ways and means best suited for the method where we could live tolerably with each other. There's never been one single incident of a prison officer being attacked in the Special Unit by a prisoner. (Interviewed by Caroline Jones, ABC Radio, 5 October 1979)

Evaluation of the special care unit (at Long Bay Gaol, New South Wales)

Grantees: Dr D W Porritt, Research and Statistics Division, NSW Department of Corrective Services

Criminology Research Council grant ; (8/85)

The Special Care Unit (SCU) is a 20-bed self-contained unit within the NSW Department of Corrective Services which opened on 1 January 1980.

It has a short-term goal of assisting inmates with behavioural/psychological problems to adapt to the prison environment and a long-term goal to facilitate their rehabilitation back into society. The research was designed to evaluate the short-term goal, and to provide feedback on staff and prisoner perceptions of the benefits and/or problems of the unit.

A total of 140 inmates were interviewed either at entry to the unit, at exit or at three month follow-up, as well as 24 inmates in a comparison group. Several psychological tests were also administered including the Interpersonal Behaviour Survey, Jessness Behaviour Checklist, Lovibond's Self Analysis Questionnaire and Spielberger's Tait Anxiety Scale.

Interview results revealed that inmates had learnt to overcome initial apprehension about therapy groups with prison officers and were able to discuss themselves and their problems openly with most staff (including prison officers). They reported heightened self awareness and an improved ability to relate to other inmates and prison officers after leaving the unit. The results of psychometric tests showed statistically significant differences between groups but these did not have any clear interpretation.

Data were also analysed for a total of 45 questionnaires and 28 interviews from staff who had worked in the unit between April 1984 and June 1986. Staff reported enhancing their skills in working with inmates and particularly in dealing with angry or distressed prisoners.

More generally, other benefits and/or problems were reported by both staff and prisoners. The reported benefits appeared to derive from the unique environment created in the SCU when compared to the main gaol system. For instance, the high degree of mixed staffing was rated as having a 'positive effect on inmates' by 70 per cent of the staff, and none said that this had a negative effect.

Some staff also reported that they felt that working in the SCU improved their prospects for promotion and improved their interpersonal and communication skills. Some staff also said it improved their communication with their families. Inmates said that the unit offered them better conditions than the main gaol system (for example, more visits and phone calls, opportunity to wear their own clothes) and claimed that they enjoyed greater freedom in the unit.

Some of the problems mentioned by staff were difficulties adjusting to the unit, the location of the unit inside the walls of a larger prison, the selection of staff and inmates not being stringent enough, and lack of training resources for staff. Staff also mentioned that they felt inmates should be provided with more support after leaving the unit.

Some of the inmates said that they found it difficult to make the transition from the unit back to main gaol and would have liked more support. A few inmates mentioned that they felt the SCU program itself was very hard for them, because they found group counselling too confronting or they felt uncomfortable talking openly in a group.

Many of the inmates who had these difficulties did not complete their stay in the unit. More generally, a high non-completion rate was a continuing problem for the unit with a non-completion rate of 48 per cent for the period of this evaluation. Many inmates were expelled from the unit for non-work or drug use.

In short, the research provides some support for the conclusion that the SCU achieved its short-term goals; to enhance the ability of troubled prisoners to cope with the gaol environment through improved staff-to-prisoner and prisoner-to-prisoner relations.

The report makes recommendations based on the research findings to:

improve on the number of inmates who complete the program;
help inmates with stress imposed by the program;
support inmates and staff leaving the unit;
enhance the network of available programs;
implement a procedure to provide feedback on post-exit functioning of inmates;
provide a standardised assessment for staff in the unit; and
implement performance indicators for the unit.

4.1 Aims for Inmates

The unit aims to assist the individual towards improved social functioning which will benefit him in any social situation, be it in the prison system or outside in the community. The immediate objectives are thus changes in thought and action indicating more skilled and less problematic functioning in social situations.

The short-term objective is to assist inmates to modify their behaviour to enable them to fit back into the gaol system: and the longer term objective is to facili-tate their re-integration back into society. It must be recognised that, while changes in self-image and social skills can assist inmates to avoid further involvement in crime, other situational factors can easily overwhelm such gains.

Thus, the hopes expressed by inmates and staff for a reduction in recidivism have a realistic basis, but the unit cannot be judged in terms of reduced recidivism. The unit can be accountable for success in the immediate and short term objectives, but much more than these may be required for a programme to have a measurable impact on recidivism.

To achieve these objectives. Inmates have to become more responsible for themselves in relation to the immediate community in which they are living. Participation in a self-help programme of reality testing is the means through which greater personal and social responsibility is developed. Thus, participation in self-help and reality testing are complementary process goals, and development of a greater sense of personal responsibility an immediate desired outcome.

The more specific therapeutic aims of the unit largely depend on the individual inmate as the unit programme is tailored to reset their individual -needs. Therefore, the unit programmes aims to improve an individual's functioning in a variety of areas which are dictated by the inmate's presenting problems, as articulated in his goals.

4.2 Aims for Staff

The broad objectives for seconded and trainee staff, which are closely interrelated, are:

a) skill development in such areas 35 interviewing inmates and counseling;

h) staff re-education, i.e. to foster a greater awareness or inmates as people with problems and the ability of staff, as prison officers, to help them:

c) role re-definition and expansion of the work role which staff carry into the general prison system.

4. 3 Prison System

a) to reduce that number of troublesome prisoners, so that fewer are hard to handle:

b) to improve inmate-officer relationships throughout the system:

c) to humanise the prison system as a whole as ex-members of the unit - staff and inmates - return to the general prison population:

d) to give prison officers more experience in a complex role in the management of prisoners;

e) to increase the number of prison officers willing and able to be accountable to inmates by providing them with explanations.

In contrast, the HRMU followed in the tradition of the spectacular failures of Grafton and Katingal. Both were closed due to the damage they caused to the community, prisoners and the Department.


The Nagle Royal Commission said that Grafton was opened in 1942, "for the treatment of recalcitrant and intractable prisoners." In reality, this was officially-endorsed "brutality and sadism" by prison officers.

It was urged " that a regime of brutality such as existed at Grafton provided the only effective method of containing and controlling intractable prisoners. According to this argument, it was necessary to inculcate fear into the prisoners from the moment of arrival, and to maintain them in a high state of fear through their stay. Otherwise they would have become uncontrollable". It is a blight on the penal administration of this State that (these conditions) did occur once and were allowed to continue for nearly thirty-three years. (Nagle Report, p.119)

The Grafton unit was closed in 1976 as it had become " an acute embarrassment to the Department's senior officers" (ibid, p.118) and Katingal had been opened in 1975.


Katingal was designed for "the containment of dangerous violent criminalsÿ"which "arose directly out of (McGeechan's) general dissatisfaction with Grafton." (ibid, p.123) Katingal very quickly began to suffer from the same problems as Grafton, for the same reasons; the classification of prisoners as "the worst 1 per cent" allowed the abuse of authority that led to unacceptable conditions.

Dr. Houston considered that long-term incarceration of prisoners at Katingal would be detrimental to their mental health. Considerable discussion about sensory deprivation took place during the latter stages of Katingal's construction. Dr. Lucas made the point that solitary confinement can, in some circumstances, amount to torture. (ibid)

ABC Radio National said, "Katingal became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the state's prisons, a focus of public protest by an unlikely alliance of lawyers, journalists and unions" (Hindsight 13 October 2002) The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann described Katingal as, the high-tech unit at Long Bay gaol which is so high tech that it now cannot be converted to any other purpose. Indeed, it is built so strongly and is such a terrible obscenity of concrete and iron bars that it would cost a great deal to even demolish it. (Hansard Transcript, 4 March 1993).

Katingal was closed in 1978 following the recommendations of the Nagle Report.It would appear, from reports, that the HRMU has fallen victim to the same problems that caused the condemnation and closure of Grafton and Katingal. Specifically, prisoners are often assigned to the HRMU without justification, and have not been given any indication of when they will be returned to the prison population.

The issue of solitary confinement is a serious problem which does not seem to have been addressed in the design of the HRMU. Instead of addressing these concerns, Mr. Woodham stated, "There are a lot of lessons from the Katingal experience. Katingal had no perimetersecurity. Prisoners broke the unbreakable glass, they broke into it and they broke out of it." (SMH, May 14, 2001)

The Nagle Report recommended the English solution to the problem;

Katingal is not the only means whereby the prison community can be protected from its predators. The English penal authorities favour the dispersal system in which such prisoners are contained in one of a number of units dispersed through various prisons. There is no reason why the dispersal system cannot be resumed in New South Wales and the Commission considers it to be the proper method of containing dangerous prisoners. (Nagle, p. 131)

Dangers of Segregation Units

Had the Nagle Report's recommendation been followed, there would be no need for the HRMU to exist. By continuing the philosophy of the box inside a box, the Department of Corrective Services has in effect encouraged senior prison officers to abandon any attempt to rehabilitate and educate a sub-group of prisoners.

If troubling cases can be further removed from the prison population, oversight becomes negligible, and the result is structural and social brutality. Any attempt to use the prison experience to socialise, build community responsibility, and prepare the prisoners for release is abandoned.

Richard Harding, Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia acknowledged the inherent dangers involved in a prison within a prison.Whatever form it takes, the treatment of prisoners who are segregated from mainstream accommodation and services is a vital indicator of the health of a prison. From the prisoner perspective, if the experience of being taken "down the back" is seen as little more than the arbitrary and oppressive exercise of authority by line management, great tensions may build up over time.

For example, one of the immediate triggers for the riots of 25th December 1998 at Casuarina itself was the decision of officers to take a prisoner to the Special Handling Unit. Recent research (Kupers 1999 10) has indicated that "the forced idleness and isolation in these [segregation] units cause many previously stable men and women to exhibit signs of serious mental illness".

The Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia and New Zealand (1996), which are the domestic version of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, proceed from the assumption that separate confinement may well have a deleterious effect on physical or mental health: see Guidelines 5.33. - 5.34. (Report of an Unannounced Inspection of the Induction and Orientation Unit and the Special Handling Unit at Casuarina Prison, 2000, pp. 4-5) .

In a UK report on the "Close Supervision Centres", HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported, "The longest continuous stay on D wing was 206 days or almost seven monthsSÿ When the prisoners were asked how they coped, they listed a variety of strategies, but their main fear was of losing their minds. (Inspection of Close Supervision Centres, August - September 1999)

Reports from HRMU prisoners

The reports of tensions that have come to our attention are:

Prisoner A, who has been banging his head against the wall and has nearly severed his fingers by slamming the door on them, reports, This place is purposely built as a basic box in a box. Once our back door is closed there is no natural ventilation and no natural light." The lack of air in cells or claustrophobia are both related to it's a box and once I feel the walls closing in and I realise there is no air, no openings.

Yet I can see air and know its outside the door and that is what causes me to panic as I know I can't get to it." In other units the ASU or MPU I could always get to the grille and breathe in fresh air and after a few minutes I would feel better, in here one cannot do this.

These conditions were also reported by a visitor, constitute inhumane treatment, and violate the UN Standard Rules,

10. All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.

11. In all places where prisoners are required to live or work,

(a) The windows shall be large enough to enable the prisoners to read or work by natural light, and shall be so constructed that they can allow the entrance of fresh air whether or not there is artificial ventilation."

Prisoner B, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was held on remand for "Assault & Malicious Damage" and was placed in a cell with a convicted prisoner on strict protection (regarded as a paedophile) on his first day in custody. The next day, the prisoner on strict protection was found dead, and this death was the reason given by Corrective Services for Prisoner B's placement in the HRMU.

The placement of Prisoner B with a convicted prisoner violated section 85 (1) of the UN Standard Rules; "Untried prisoners shall be kept separate from convicted prisoners." Prisoner C was placed in the HRMU, "following his involvement in a riot which caused significant damage to the centre."

However, Prisoner C claims he is innocent, and was never formally charged with this offence. This violates section 30 (2) of the UN Standard Rules; "No prisoner shall be punished unless he has been informed of the offence alleged against him and given a proper opportunity of presenting his defence. The competent authority shall conduct a thorough examination of the case."

We respectfully submit that in the light of these reports, an independent inspection is needed to assess the nature of conditions in the unit and compare them to the social alternative. At the very least this will reassure the public that conditions in the HRMU are humane.

We would be grateful if you acknowledged receipt of this letter by fax, and urgently accede to the request.

Thank you for your consideration.

By Justice Action Posted Gregory Kable 5 June 03

Related Source:

CRC funded reports 1983-1984

CRC funded reports 1996-1997

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Corrective Services Minister Richard Amery has a problem attacking prisoners right to privacy.It seems to us that a civil society is best served when social justice laws are applied to all people regardless of their circumstances. Once government starts making exceptions which disadvantage certain groups and individuals, such laws are meaningless.

Litigants are drowning: in the High Court
There were so many self represented litigants appearing in the High Court that more than half of its registry staff's time was taken up in dealing with them. The "go it alone" litigants have to take on tasks well above their qualified league causing them stress. This growing problem cannot be left unchecked.

Everyone wants to get out of 'jail' but 'Framed' wants life: Rotten Ron on the ropes On 2 May 2002, Justice Action received a faxed letter from Manager of DCS Operations Support Branch saying that, in his view, articles in Framed edition #42 'lack balance and integrity' and he is therefore 'not prepared to recommend this issue of Framed for placement in to correctional centre libraries.' Prisoners and those concerned about prisoner issues have very few sources of information.

Methadone addicts formed within: 'NSW Prisons'
The New South Wales Opposition has accused the State Government of turning jailed heroin users into Methadone addicts.

Murder charge first for DNA data bank link, but not the same as solving the murder Mass DNA testing of prisoners has [allegedly] led to the first NSW case of a person being charged with a previously unsolved murder as a result of a controversial gene-matching data bank.

Medical Records: Alex Mitchell's lost world
Perhaps we can get your medical report and spew it around publicly so you can see how it feels. But surely we do not have to go that far. And of course we are law-abiding citizens and I should think it would be enough to remind you of your ethics to report at all.

Prisoners can prove innocence for $20?
Les Kennedy Daily Telegraph reported today that" Prisoners who believe that DNA will prove they were wrongly convicted will have the chance to prove their innocence for a mere $20 administration fee. The move comes 20 months after NSW inmates were asked to provide DNA for comparison with a databank of DNA from unsolved crime scenes for possible convictions.

NSW opposition pledges review of detention laws
A spokesperson for Justice Action Ms Anal Advice said " NSW Prisons are a sex offence if you have been raped, bashed and squatted down to be strip searched. People should be diverted from going there at all material times".

Civil libertarians condemn planned changes to prisoners' privacy rights The New South Wales Government is using a recent case involving [framed] serial killer Ivan Milat to justify its decision to remove the privacy rights of prisoners. But really just another attack on Ivan Milat from Parliament House.

The punishment: Is the 'crime'
The punishment is the crime according to retired chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia Justice Alistair Nicholson. "Smacking a child ought to be seen as assault".

Mr. & Mrs. Mandatory Sentencing
Well congratulations to the bride and groom. Could you please be upstanding and raise your glasses for Mr. And Mrs. Mandatory.

Just wipe your arse on Ivan again Minister?
Mr Amery Minister for Corrective services has a problem with finding a toilet roll to wipe his bottom. Justice Action is appalled at the attacks by Amery and others in parliament on Ivan Milat's right to privacy and their attacks on the Privacy Commissioner and his office.

NSW Parliament Bitter Pills To Swallow?
One delusion pill: So people who investigate their own mistakes make sure there was no mistake or someone else made the mistake. Perhaps you're not biased and you will be honest about it.

NSW prisons - primary industry bailed up!
In many quiet regional centres around NSW there is a new primary industry shaping up. It has something to do with Bail but not with bales. The minister for Agriculture Richard Amery who also has the prisons portfolio is now committed to farming prisoners.

Black Nexus
The Separation of Powers Doctrine is nowcontaminated witharangeofcolours, now leaving us with a black shirt on a once blue bridge that crossed that thin blue line. The 'Amery and Woodham show'.

Prison Mind Games-Do they exist?
Directives are given inside the prison system that are not consistent with the law in NSW. And not in the good interests of the health and well being of the prisoners.

The Government is likely to abolish the Inspector General of Corrective Services position The Mulawa inspection report recommendations below strictly illustrate how important he is.

Chronology - A History of Australian Prisons
[Allegedly:] The events that have shaped NSW prisons - from convict days through royal commissions, to the Supermax of today. [I say allegedly because no one should trust Four Corners [Walls], why? Because they spill out the propaganda of the day for the Government, whether it be wrong or right. A government that lies and has no remorse about it.]