Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Where the Norm is Not the Norm: HARM-U

HRMU: Goulburn Correctional Centre

In the absence of public policy, this paper is an attempt to shine a light through the rhetoric and test for coherency in the policy and function of NSW’s only supermax prison, the High Risk Management Unit. Its present use will be compared with the ‘vision’ flogged by the Premier and the Department of Corrective Services (the Department) at its inception in 2001.

The Opening Ceremony

At the official opening of the High Risk Management Unit in 2001, the NSW Premier Bob Carr proclaimed that the new supermax would detain the worst inmates in the NSW prison system. He went on...They pose a high security risk to the community, correctional centre staff and other inmates.

They cannot, or will not, fit into normal rehabilitation programs while in gaol. These are the psychopaths, the career criminals, the violent standover men, the paranoid inmates and gang leaders. The intensive programs in place in the HRMU will try to break the cycle of violence so these prisoners can safely be placed back into the mainstream prison system...1

Mr Carr continued to vaunt the security features of the new “unit”, before proudly concluding that the HRMU, “is just another example of the State Government’s commitment to investing in public infrastructure and creating jobs in regional areas.”2

Three years on, the HRMU bears slight resemblance to that projected by the Premier, in 2001 – a supermax prison designed strictly to rehabilitate the very worst prisoners in the NSW prison system.

A ‘prison within a prison’, shaped at least rhetorically by the seemingly irreconcilable goals of harsh punitive sanctions and ‘new age’ rehabilitation, captured most brutally by the Department’s idiom, secure but humane.3

The Department of Corrective Services (The Games Begin) Eliciting information from the Department of Corrective Services simulates in part the experience of incarceration – time is seemingly suspended as days melt into months with nothing to show for it.

From the beginning, the Department strenuously sought to control debate on the HRMU, offering grandiose sound bites to the media while keeping detailed information regarding the actual function of the unit within a cone of silence.

In July 2003 it was considered by both Commissioner Woodham and the Justice Minister John Hatzistergos to be in the ‘public interest’ to leak confiscated cartoons drawn by Bilal Skaf from inside the HRMU.4 In contrast, classification policy regarding “high risk” prisoners was held by the Director of Security and Intelligence of Goulburn Correctional Centre Brian Kelly, to pose a security risk –“the matter will have to go through the Commissioner”.5

Further enquiries prompted the Department’s media unit to inform me I was “dealing with a section within a very different department where the norm is not the norm.”6

Highlighting the spuriousness of Green’s security concerns is the fact that the Acting Superintendent of the HRMU Mark Phillip Wilson enunciated in detail the process of high-risk classification in an affidavit to Supreme Court proceedings in December 2003, replete with an annexed blank copy of a ‘HRMU Referral Form’.7

The answer in short, is that beyond the High Security Inmate Management Committee’s capacity to make ‘recommendations’ to the Commissioner as to what a prisoner’s security rating should be, the Commissioner retains absolute autonomy to make that final designation.8

2. Bob Carr, 2 Bob Carr, He stated, “It is the cutting edge in prison design and security. It has its own security system, two maximum security fences, a sterile zone, a plethora of video cameras and motion detectors, and two watchtowers with 24 hour cameras.”
Ron Woodham (then) Senior Assistant Commissioner, DCS newsletter, (September 2001), ‘Focus on Goulburn as Premier opens HRMU’. Where ‘secure’ is code for 23 hours per day confinement in a 2 x 3m cell with no windows, natural light or fresh air. Also note the Herald’s bastardisation to “sparse but humane”, in Linda Doherty, (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, p4.
4 Stephen Gibbs, (26-27 July 2003), ‘Skaf stories part of a freak show: Libs’, Sydney Morning Herald at 7. The Commissioner asserted that his “job is to tell the truth, however painful or unfortunate that may sometimes be.”
5 Email from Rachel Knowles, DCS, (9 September 2004). After 4 attempts to make contact with the Commissioner’s office I am yet to receive a response.
6 Email from Rachel Knowles, DCS, (10 September 2004).7 R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, (1 December 2003).

On what grounds does the Commissioner base that decision? That question was put ‘on Notice’ to John Hatzistergos, the Minister for Justice. In hindsight, the expectation of an enlightening response was naïvely optimistic.

Earlier in June 2003 during parliamentary question time, the Minister was asked whether he had been informed of a security breach incident within the HRMU. In lieu of acknowledging the question with an answer, the Honourable Hatzistergos instead menaced/threatened that, If the honourable member thinks that security at the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn is lacking, I invite him to spend a month there. He can go in there with the other inmates and experience it—live.9

On this occasion, the Minister remained cryptic and essentially unresponsive, referring only to the initial head of power and not the particular grounds on which prisoners are designated as “high security”.10

Clause 25(1) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2001 allows the Commissioner to, designate an inmate as a high security inmate if of the opinion that the inmate constitutes:

(a) a danger to other people, or
(b) a threat to good order and security.
Cl 25 (2) allows the Commissioner to designate an inmate as “extreme high security”,
if of the opinion that the inmate constitutes:
(a) an extreme danger to other people, or
(b) an extreme threat to good order and security [emphasis added].
Cl 25 does not enumerate any considerations the Commissioner should take into account before reaching that ‘opinion’ – nor does it require that the ‘opinion’ be informed or even ‘reasonable’.

The arbitrary authority entrusted into the Commissioner is highlighted by the semantic difference between subsections (1) and (2) that distinguish “high security inmates” and “extreme high security inmates” by simply adding “extreme” into the definition.

The referral process of the HRMU that operates once an inmate has been designated as “extreme high risk” exacerbates the indefinite scope of discretion.

In an apparent reference to Cl 25, the ‘HRMU Referral Form’ includes a “Danger to other people’s safety and security of the centre indicator checklist”. The checklist effectively usurps the evidentiary process as inmates need only be “suspected, charged or convicted [emphasis added]” for an ‘indicator’ in the checklist to be satisfied.

For example, Has the inmate been suspected, charged or convicted of gang membership/affiliation:................_ Yes _ No

Crucially, a prisoner does not have to be charged with an offence, meaning that a positive ‘finding’ that a prisoner is ‘suspected’ of gang membership is unreviewable.11
9 NSW Legislative Council Hansard, 25 June 2003, (article 18). For more recent, though equally valiant displays of transparency in government, see Hansard 17 November 2004, (article 19), or Hansard 27 October 2004 (article 19).

For example, Konstantinos Georgiou was placed in the HRMU without charge. Removing any burden of proof upon the Department means that during both the classification and referral process, prisoners are essentially outside the protection of the legal system. So while it is widely recognised by courts that, “conditions are considerably more restrictive for prisoners housed in that Unit than they are for prisoners in ordinary discipline,”12 the decision in R v Hamzy illustrates that courts are reluctant if not unwilling to intervene and review administrative decisions made by the Department.13

The circumstances of Konstantinos Georgiou’s designation as “extreme high security” demonstrate an example of the application of the Commissioner’s discretion. During an appeal against the severity of his sentence, Georgiou raised his segregation as a mitigating factor. The principle that more onerous conditions of confinement, “justifies some moderation in sentence” was affirmed by the NSWCCA earlier this year in R v Way.14

In that case, it was held that at the time of sentence, the court is required to make some “prediction about the nature of the custody that will be endured by the prisoner.”15

This alone poses problems for many HRMU prisoners including Konstantinos, who have been transferred there from other prisons, and underscores the problem of excluding an external body from the classification and referral process of the HRMU. Much of Georgiou’s appeal focused on why he had been transferred from Lithgow to the HRMU. Georgiou was designated as an “extreme high security inmate” on 16 February 2003, approximately 5 years into his sentence. According to Crown prosecutor Robinson QC, there were three bases on which this designation was made: One goes to the three mobile phones. The second, which is believed from other intelligence, that he is attempting to conduct a business. There is an assessment about his personality and there is also intelligence that suggests a level of desperation on his part about being in gaol.16

The reference to phones relates to an assertion made by Mark Phillip Wilson in his affidavit as Acting Superintendent of the HRMU: At Lithgow risk assessments were undertaken as a result of Georgiou’s behaviour there, including that he was found with mobile phones, and those risk assessments and intelligence holdings indicated Georgiou should be placed in a more secure location.17
Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, (30 October 2003).
12 Regina v Stephen Andrew Gordon [2004] NSWCCA 45. See also comments made by Mason P in R v Bassam Hamzy below.
R v Bassam Hamzy Specifically, Mason P held that, “the appellant’s admission to HRMU and the harsh regime there encountered represent the product of an administrative decision taken in light of events having nothing to do with the offences for which the appellant stands convicted. These appellate proceedings are not a proper vehicle for examining the lawfulness of that decision or for reviewing the conditions of imprisonment at HRMU”. Disturbingly, Mason P notes that the reason for Bassam Hamzy’s designation as “extreme high risk” was not established.
15 R v Mostyn [2004] NSWCCA 97.
16 R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, (30 October 2003).

In somewhat of an understatement, James J responded to Robinson by pointing out that, None of [the bases], on their face, would justify finding somebody to be an extreme high risk, bearing in mind that I would have thought that a most substantial portion of the gaol population has some sort of desperation about being in gaol. The triviality of the phones is only half the story – the Department could not factually verify that Georgiou ever had phones in his cell, had never investigated the matter, and had never charged Georgiou for such an offence. Further, when examined by James J, John Salway for the Department conceded that he was “ not sure” whether the Commissioner had designated Georgiou because he constituted an extreme danger to other people (cl 25 (2)(a)), or because he constituted an extreme threat to good order and security (cl 25 (2)(b)), or both. However, the Department and the prosecution were not finished – there was another reason for the designation: “Yes your Honour. On the basis of risk, perceived risk of escape, for the good order of the institution.”18

Unfortunately for the Department, or rather unfortunately for Konstantinos Georgiou who has now spent more than 16 months in the HRMU, the Department has never classified Georgiou as an escape risk. Of course, for an E1 or E2 classification to be made pursuant to cl 24 Crimes (Administration of Sentence) Regulation, evidence would need to be tendered – an unnecessary obstacle to Commissioner Woodham when designating “high risk” prisoners. However, as it became obvious to the court that Georgiou’s placement was baseless, Mark Phillip Wilson tendered in affidavit: I do not wish to publicly disclose the basis upon which the Commissioner has formed the view that Georgiou should be held in the manner he is currently held. I claim public interest immunity over this information.19

Damningly, the obscurity of Georgiou’s placement in the HRMU is not exceptional. When, the HRMU opened, it was trumpeted as the end of the line for the worst of the worst. The Sydney Morning Herald continued its offensive under the headline, ‘High-security prison to house the very worst’,20 which followed a detailed summary headed, ‘THE USUAL SUSPECTS: CRITERIA FOR ENTRY TO SUPERMAX’.21

Listed were four classifications: antisocial psychopathic career criminal; severely paranoid; angry and impulsive; and highly visible violence. Pictured were the staple Department pin-ups Ivan Milat, David Eastman and Mark Valera. However, of the 45 prisoners being held in the HRMU in November 2003, it is known that at least 11 of those were either on remand or serving sentences of 12 years or less, significantly less than would be expected of ‘psychopathic career criminals’.22 The irregularities do not stop there. If the Herald is to be believed, Bilal Skaf, the prisoner we presently most love to hate, was placed in the HRMU after it was discovered that other inmates at Long Bay were conspiring to inject him with HIV infected blood.23 Clearly a rationale of ‘protection’ and is unrelated to the detention and rehabilitation of violent offenders. In another example analogous to the Georgiou case, it was revealed in an ICAC investigation into the HRMU, that a prisoner only identified as C1 was placed in the HRMU because he had been found in possession of mobile phones in the main part of the gaol.

18 John Salway, R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, (30 October 2003).
19 Regrettably, counsel for Georgiou informed James J on 19 December 2003 that they were abandoning the segregation
issue before Wilson could be cross-examined over his ‘immunity’. It has been suggested that an arrangement was made between the Crown and Defence Counsel whereby the Crown would not pursue a life sentence if Georgiou dropped the segregation issue.
20 2-3 June 2001.
21 Linda Doherty, (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
22 Individual prisoner details comes Letter of complaint, (19 November 2003).

The Acting Deputy Governor of the HRMU John Salway stated in evidence that as of 30 October 2003, 45 prisoners were detained in the HRMU (R v Georgiou 24

It is not known if C1 was charged for that offence, however the penalties for possessing a mobile phone within a correctional centre are stated in ss 53 & 56A of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 – placement in the HRMU is clearly outside the scope of those sections.
The lack of coherency or consistency in the placement of prisoners in the HRMU goes directly to the unqualified discretion of the Commissioner to designate prisoners as “extreme high security”. The absence of what may be described as a ‘stereotypical’ HRMU prisoner, despite the insistence of the Premier and the Department that the HRMU would be reserved for “psychopathic career criminals”, echoes Nagle’s finding that the type of prisoner being kept in Katingal was markedly different to what was originally intended.25

In its final submission to the Royal Commission, the Department listed the categories of prisoner intended for detention at Katingal. Notably, protection cases and agitators were marked as suitable, while psychiatric prisoners were explicitly ruled out.26

With regards to the HRMU, no coherent or definitive policy has been offered by the Department or the Justice Minister on who it is actually intended for, other than “inmates such as backpacker murderer Ivan Milat”.27

Grafton, Tracs and the Electric Zoo (Australian Legends)

Tracing the inception of the HRMU is to traverse some of the “most sordid and shameful episodes in NSW penal history.”28

The policy of concentrating dangerous or high-profile prisoners is not novel in NSW. Goulburn’s supermax follows a trajectory that began with the intractable unit in Grafton and was suspended with the closure of Katingal’s ignominious ‘electronic zoo’ in 1978 after the Nagle Royal Commission urged that the “cost of Katingal is too high in human terms.”29

However, the policy of concentration never lost its currency within the Department;30 the argument re-emerged at the opening of the HRMU when, in a direct reference to the bash regime at Grafton, the then Minister for Corrective Services asserted in the Herald that, “removing the intractables would have a beneficial effect on other jails.”31

Nagle described Grafton’s intractable unit as the “end of the line” for the “misfits” within the NSW prison system.32
24 ICAC, (February 2004), ‘Report on investigation into the introduction of contraband into the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre, at 11. Prison officer Cale Urosevic stated that, “it was known that he was down in the HRMU because he had acquired mobile phones up in the main gaol. That's one of the reasons he was there... That as well as the fact he was a prominent leader in his race...”
25Nagle Royal Commission, (condensed copy), at 122.
26 Nagle Royal Commission, (condensed copy), at 124. Discussed later, compared to Katingal, HRMU policy regarding mentally ill prisoners is regressive.
27 (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
28 Nagle Royal Commission, at 188.
29 Nagle Royal Commission, at 238.
30 Tony Vinson, (1982), Wilful Obstruction, Methuen Australia, Sydney. See for example in the aftermath of the murder of prison officer John Mewborn at Long Bay in 1979.
31 Linda Doherty, (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max Grafton Gaol Mr Frame.
33 The ‘programme’ was based on the idea that the only effective method of containing and controlling intractable prisoners was through brutal force. It was hoped by Nagle that it was “inherently unlikely that a regime which has now been revealed in all its horror and brutality, and which has been almost universally condemned, would be likely to re-emerge.”
34 The problem for the DCS was that the savagery of the ‘intractable programme’ was so tangibly and unequivocally contrary to accepted norms of humanity and penal philosophy. Nagle was partly right in that systematic bashings largely died with the demise of Grafton,
35 however the intractable mentality of the DCS, with its utter disregard for prisoner well-being, endured.

The unit was established in response to a spate of assaults on prison officers in the early 1940s. Considered undeserving of the most basic of amenities, ‘intractables’ were subjected to a bash regime, euphemistically referred to as the “intractable programme” by the Superintendent of
Katingal represented a continuum of the Department’s policy of concentration – a policy described by Nagle as a “fundamental error”. David Brown notes that, “the exact rationale for Katingal was obscure given the secrecy surrounding its planning, but in part at least it was a replacement for the bash regime at Grafton, replacing physical brutality to so-called ‘tracs’ with sensory deprivation.”36

In effect, Katingal marked a modernisation in prisoner punishment. Katingal offered inmates nooutside light and no fresh air and was built around the dual objectives of social isolation and sensory deprivation. The Department never offered a coherent statement of why Katingal was created or its intended purpose. Nagle was left to glean what he could from correspondence between the Department and the Public Works Department in the late 1960s. Without substance, the Department “stressed the urgent need for secure containment of ‘dangerous violent criminals’ for the protection ‘of the community and of prison officers in particular’”.37

Inexplicably, the medical profession were never consulted during the design period of the unit, leaving Dr Lucas, a psychiatrist working for the Royal Commission, to state that, “the lack of flexibility [in the design] could lead to a high degree of isolation, which could be damaging to prisoners if continued over a long period.”38

Although Katingal’s prisoners were all placed one-out in cells with minimal prisoner interaction, it was stressed by the Management Committee of Katingal that the unit was not part of the Department’s segregation programme, taking Katingal’s prisoners outside the protection of s 22 of the Prisons Act that imposed restrictions on the length of segregation and the extent to which a segregated prisoner can be deprived of privileges.39 Note here to HRMU prisoner complaints. Three programmes existed at Katingal, with a graduated level of privileges offered with each successive progression from one programme to the next. Programme Three, the pinnacle of achievement, entitled inmates to a wall drape and a parcel containing extra minties and potato chips. Nagle spurned the ‘programmes’ as being “devised on some crude Pavlovian theory that inmates would respond to incentives by conforming to the discipline of the institution”,40 and noted the stark contrast between Katingal’s glorified “system of graduated amenities” and Commissioner McGeechan’s earlier glossy promises of programmes “geared toward diagnosis and individual prediction.”41

In an attempt to add balance, Nagle noted one of the few positive aspects of Katingal was the seniority of its staff. However, even on this point he notes that, “it is clear, despite claims to the contrary, the officers at Katingal receive no special training.”42

33 Nagle Royal Commission, at 198. Upon admission to Grafton, intractables were subjected to a ‘reception biff’, where they were severely beaten by groups of prison officers, often while still shackled. According to Mr Frame, the reception biff was designed to give the new inmate “a short sharp shock to show him that he was now in Grafton.”
Nagle Royal Commission, at 210.
35 David Brown, ‘The Nagle Royal Commission 25 Years On’, Alternative Law Journal, Vol 29:3 June 2004, at 138. 36
David Brown, ‘The Nagle Royal Commission 25 Years On’, Alternative Law Journal, Vol 29:3 June 2004, at 139. 37
Nagle Royal Commission, at 213. 38
Nagle Royal Commission, at 218. 39
Nagle Royal Commission, at 226. 40
Nagle Royal Commission, at 227.

The Lessons of Katingal and the New HRMU

Experience is not requisite in the selection of prison officers in the HRMU. Officer Cale Urosevic was appointed to the HRMU after only 2 years in the Department.43

In addition to the mandatory 10 week training course that all prison officers must do when they join the Department, he received a “specialised” 10 day training course prior to his placement in the HRMU that “included techniques for maintaining control of the relationship between inmates and correctional officers.”44

The description of training offered by the Department at the ICAC inquiry is a far cry from their previous proclamations to the media of specially trained prison officers who “will devise individual case management plans” for prisoners.45

It is difficult to imagine how Nagle could have been more critical of the Department’s role in its furtive creation and management of Katingal. However, oblivious to Nagle’s 38 page denunciation of the ‘electronic zoo’, or perhaps merely unfamiliar with the Royal Commission into NSW Prisons, Woodham (who was the Principal Prison Officer at Long Bay during the Royal Commission) brazenly sought to rewrite history, stating that there are a lot of lessons from the Katingal experience. Katingal had no perimeter security. Prisoners broke the unbreakable glass, they broke into it and they broke out of it.46

Woodham’s fundamentally dishonest construction of Katingal’s demise was left unchallenged by the media. In fact, under the heading ‘Favourable Aspects’, Nagle specifically noted that “there is no doubt that Katingal effectively isolates prisoners who are difficult to contain in the normal prison system”47

– the problem was its inability to perform this function in a manner consistent with the ‘humanity’ in the ‘man’ within the ‘criminal’.48

Though Nagle blasted the Department for failing to consult the medical profession in the design of Katingal, Woodham bizarrely boasted that “security experts” who toured Katingal to learn from its mistakes planned the HRMU.49

The Justice Minister is similarly nondescript in how the planning and design of the HRMU differ from the blunders of Katingal: A number of professionals were consulted in the development of strategies for inmate services and specialised programs... The architect’s brief for the HRMU required a safe, secure and humane environment while maintaining use of natural light and ventilation where possible [emphasis added].

43 ICAC, (February 2004), ‘Report on the investigation into the introduction of contraband into the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre’, at 10.
44 Brian Kelly, then Commander South West, DCS, ICAC, (February 2004), ‘Report on the investigation into the

introduction of contraband into the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre’, at 10.
45 (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney Morning Herald, at 4.
46 Linda Doherty, (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
47 Nagle Royal Commission, at 131.
48 Michel Foucault, (1977), Discipline and Punish, Penguin, London, at 74. Foucault cites the “fundamental law” as conceived by the reformers in the eighteenth century that “punishment must have ‘humanity’ as its ‘measure’”. Evidently the problem was that no definitive meaning was ever given to this ‘measure’.

Apparently it was not ‘possible’ to incorporate natural light and ventilation into the design of the HRMU. Inmates complain of claustrophobia, freezing temperatures and stale air, no doubt exacerbated by the huge amount of time prisoners are kept in their cells.50

There is no natural light or fresh air in the HRMU. Of course, as pointed out by the Corrections Health Service, the legislative requirements for the health standards of normal public buildings do not apply to the HRMU, as it is not considered to be a public building.51

It took 7 months in supermax before Konstantinos Georgiou saw the sky for the first time. While the Department openly regards outdoor exercise in the HRMU a privilege, it has sought to mislead over the amount of time prisoners spend in their cells. According to Jack Walker, an Official Visitor to Goulburn who reports directly to the Justice Minister, each cell in the HRMU has a back door that opens onto a grassy exercise yard the size of half a football pitch, allowing the prisoner to be outside for 4-5 hours everyday.52

For such a claim to be sustained a number of factors need to be made out. Firstly, prisoners in the HRMU are only allowed to associate with one other inmate at a time, meaning 45 prisoners would require approximately 23 such exercise yards (equivalent in size to 12 full size football fields), to ensure that ‘group’ sizes of prisoners never exceeded two. An aerial photograph of the unit clearly reveals that the HRMU has only one grassy area – demonstrating that either most prisoners do not have access to the yard at all, or that their access is substantially less than 4-5 hours per day. This construction is consistent with accounts of the Unit’s prisoners who claim that they spend up to 23 hours a day in their cell.53

The HRMU’s opening ceremony was chosen by Mr Woodham to enunciate the Department’s need for a supermax prison. Its genesis was never subject to parliamentary scrutiny nor was its merits debated – his statement represents the totality of the Department’s philosophy regarding the HRMU: We had experienced some very violent incidents within our system. At the same time indicators were emerging outside of correctional centres that in the future we would have to prepare to manage a number of people who operate in well organised street groups or gangs... it was obvious that we had some highly dangerous inmates in NSW in the sense that they have committed coldly violent crimes inside and outside correctional centres. These are not impulsive hot-heads, but cool planners of violence, some of whom have no respect for law enforcement, nor respect for the judiciary, no respect for correctional centre staff and no respect for human life. This unit would have to be humane but extremely secure...54

Woodham attaches the ‘purpose’ of the HRMU to the suggestion that existing prison capabilities in NSW were unfit to cope with the emergence of a need ‘strain’ of violent offender. However, beyond its vagueness, the claim uncannily echoes the same justification offered by the Department for Katingal, belying the claim of a novel dilemma.55

Considering Woodham’s obfuscation, the chilling parallels between Katingal and the HRMU are unsurprising.
50 Letter from Justice Action to the Minister for Justice, (9 December 2003).
51 Letter from Dr Richard Matthews, CEO Corrections Health Service, to Justice Action, (2 April 2003).
52 John Salway made the same assertion during proceedings in the Georgiou case.
53 See for example, R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, Letter of Complaint signed by the Inmates of the HRMU.
54 Ron Woodham quoted in Julian Faigan, (September 2001), ‘Focus on Goulburn as Premier opens HRMU’, (NSW
Department of Corrective Services), APCCA Newsletter No 13, at55 Tony Vinson, the former Chairman of the Department, noted that during the early 1980s every time a negative event

Like Katingal before it, the Department maintains that the HRMU is not part of its segregation
programme, removing HRMU prisoners outside any safeguards offered by the Crimes
(Administration of Sentences) Act.56

The Act regulates the segregated custody of prisoners, requiringinter alia that:

• prisoners are informed in writing why they are there (s 13);
• the Commissioner review the segregated custody direction every 3 weeks (s 16); and
• the Minister be notified if the total continuous period of segregated custody exceeds 6 months (s18).

The Act also enables prisoners to apply to the Review Council for a review of the segregated custody order (s 19). In HRMU parlance, HRMU prisoners are afforded none of these ‘privileges’.

The prisoners express their situation in despair: we are being housed in a segregation type environment and yet we are being told that we are not in segregation but on normal discipline status... it is causing us inmates in the HRMU a lot of stress and frustrations, anger and the feeling of injustice on a daily basis over the continual depriving of quite a lot of day to day necessities which normal discipline inmates have access to.57

Adding to the torment is the uncertainty over when they will be placed back in the mainstream prison system – there are no fixed sentences in the HRMU. Even the Acting Superintendent of the HRMU conceded that, “it is impossible to accurately estimate how long [prisoners] will remain in the HRMU”.58

“the HRMU is not going to be a dumping ground. The prisoners will be properly assessed and managed...”

Some questions “on Notice” to the Justice Minister elicited brazenly monosyllabic responses.

Are “high risk” prisoners on remand ever placed in the HRMU?—Yes.

Are “high risk” prisoners suffering from mental illnesses (as defined by the Mental Health Act) everplaced in the HRMU?—Yes.

The moral shallowness of these two admissions is shamelessly swept aside by the Honourable Hatzistergos. The glaring irreconcilability between detaining mentally ill prisoners in the HRMU and the Unit’s stated aim of “rehabilitation” is accentuated by the Minister’s official account of the HRMU rehabilitation program. He initially states that, “inmates are assessed as to their criminogenic risk and needs at entry to the HRMU, and programs are delivered based on an inmate’s identified needs.” However, only one ‘rehabilitation’ programme exists in the HRMU that all prisoners must complete:
56 1999.

A behaviourally based management regime – the Hierarchy of Sanctions and Privileges – operates in the HRMU. Those inmates who maintain consistent standards of acceptable behaviour, and for whom other risk factors are not in evidence, may be considered for return to the mainstream correctional environment.59

The absurdity of detaining mentally ill prisoners within the confines of a supermax prison is excruciatingly demonstrated by the case of Scott Simpson, a prisoner detained on remand in the HRMU for almost 2 years. In March this year, Scott Simpson was tried for murder – the following history is taken from that case.60

On 29 March 2002, two days after telling police that he was hearing voices and pleading to be taken back to prison, Scott attempted to attack a friend with a metal baseball bat. He was arrested and charged with malicious damage and assault and transferred on remand to the MRRC. Upon admission Scott was assessed as presenting symptoms of a serious mental illness. Despite these warnings and the previous recommendation that Scott was unsuitable to be placed two out, at 6.08pm Scott was placed in cell 37 with Andrew Parfitt, a tall slender man facing charges alleging sexual offences against young males. Twelve minutes later Andrew Parfitt was lying dead in a pool of his own blood. Scott was sitting on his bed blankly staring at the opposite wall. He was calm and though covered with blood showed no signs of aggression. During a psychiatric assessment after the death, Scott referred to the CIA, ASIO, Iraq, microwaves and electromagnetic technology. At one point during his police interview, Scott stretched back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling and emitted a prolonged “shush” sound. Two months later Scott was placed in the HRMU. In January 2003, he was assessed as, “certifiable under the Mental Health Act [and] requiring treatment in a psychiatric hospital”.61

Despite this determination, Scott remained in the supermax for a further 14 months – in his 20 months in supermax Scott was never allowed any possessions. The HRMU’s classification system, described by the Herald as a “carrot and stick approach to privileges”,62 punishes non-conforming prisoners by removing their most basic provisions. The system exploits the “sparse” design of the HRMU and works by very liberally expanding the scope of ‘privileges’. At the HRMU, associating with another inmate, talking to family, eating a hot meal, exercising in an outdoor yard or reading a book are all defined as ‘privileges’. In a cell smaller than the average bathroom, with no windows, natural light or air, where prisoners spend up to 23 hours per day, possessions and personal contact define a prisoner’s entire existence. Their greatest challenge, as articulated by the prisoners inside, is “trying to avoid the inevitable madness we are all heading tounder this current regime in the HRMU.”63

Before the HRMU opened, the Herald forecast that upon admission, “each prisoner will undergo a two week assessment, including a psychological profile”.64 The then Minister for Corrective Services assured the community that, “...the HRMU is not going to be a dumping ground.
59 The Hon. John Hatzistergos, Minister for Justice, (23 November 2004), “Questions on Notice”.
60 Regina v Scott Ashley Simpson [2004] NSWSC 233 (31 March 2004).
61 Serious Offenders Review Council, (7 January 2003), ‘Psychiatric Report’.
62 Linda Doherty, (2-3 June 2001), ‘High-security prison to house the very worst’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
63 Inmates of the HRMU (19 November 2003), letter to whom it may concern.
be properly assessed and managed”.65 This claim was somewhat qualified by the Honourable Hatzistergos ‘on Notice’: Inmates are generally informed of why they are placed in the HRMU.66

The prisoners will After 17 months in the HRMU, Georgiou has still not been given a coherent reason of why he is there or what it is about his behaviour that needs changing. How a prisoner is supposed to be ‘rehabilitated’ when they are not even informed of what the problem is that needs reforming is unclear. Even at Katingal, new prisoners were given a document, “Information for Prisoners” which outlined “how prisoners are expected to behave in given situations, and about the facilities and privileges available”.67 No such information is available to HRMU prisoners – just like Winston Smith’s world in 1984, nothing is illegal in the HRMU, though offences are punishable by death.68

Mark Phillip Wilson outlines the secret to success in supermax: An inmate who displays positive behaviour, that is, complies with HRMU routine, for example, leaves his cell when directed and in an appropriate fashion, and completes any program referrals as directed, for example, educational or behavioural modification, will move through the program... assuming that there is no regression by that inmate.69

Upon arrival at the HRMU, prisoners are strip searched and given new clothes, underwear and shoes that don’t fit properly. They are put in unit 7, the segregation wing, where ‘re-assessment’ takes place. Both Scott Simpson and Konstantinos Georgiou were isolated in a ‘clean’ cell for over a month while they were ‘re-assessed’.70

Classification begins at 0 where prisoners are held in the segregation wing; the next step is 1:1.

Zero allows a prisoner nothing except 2 phone calls a week and $20 buy up.

1:1 allows 2 personal phone calls, a $25 buy up, kettle, radio, access to library sometimes and access to a fridge.

1;2 allows 2 personal phone calls, a $30 buy up, kettle, radio, access to library and computer room, fridge and microwave access, and prisoners can put down for ‘association’, meaning that prisoner can be in the library with one other prisoner.

1:3 allows a prisoner all of the above, with another $5 increase in the buy up, and the possibility of getting a TV. This could take up to 6 months.
65 (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
66 The Hon. John Hatzistergos, Minister for Justice, (23 November 2004), “Questions on Notice”.
67 Nagle Royal Commission, (condensed volume), at 129.
68 In reflection, Woodham conceded to the Herald that, “some prisoners [will] die in the supermax”, (2-3 June 2001), ‘High-security prison to house the very worst’, Sydney Morning Herald, at 6.
69 Mark Phillip Wilson, (1 December 2003), Affidavit filed for the Commissioner of the Department of Corrective Services, in R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001.

Classification consists of assessment by welfare and either a prison psychologist or psychiatrist, where the prisoner is asked to elicit very personal information. Non-compliance with these conditions means not moving up the classification ladder. As demonstrated by Scott Simpson’s case, prisoners suffering mental illnesses are incompatible with these conditions of the HRMU’s classification system. In a letter written from the HRMU dated 9 April 2003, Scott Simpson describes his situation, They took all my property. I’m in a cell with nothing. They are trying to blackmail me by saying, ‘see the sych and take the medication he wants you to take and we give you a radio and TV etc’... I will talk to sychs just not jail sychs. I will not take any medication as what I am experiencing is due to the fact certain Agencies mainly ASIO are TORCHERING me and all other Inmates with “REMOTE MIND CONTROL”. Everyone knows this is no secret.71

Scott’s ‘refusal’ to cooperate meant he was left in his 2 x 3m grey cell, with no natural light or fresh air, suffering a severe mental illness, with no books, TV or radio and nothing to do. He later writes, I would rather be dead than get this torcher every day 24/7 non stop. The very fact I’m speaking about this shows how despret I am for this TORCHER to stop. They can kill me with what I said by transmitting a compensating demodulated waveform from a remote location witch in tern effects the neurological (nervis system) and any region of the brain, thoughts and emotions with a single measurement. Better known as“REMOTE MIND CONTROL.72

In March this year, Scott Simpson was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness.73 His paranoid condition precluded his compliance with the obligations of the “carrot and stick” approach. After being found not guilty he was transferred from the HRMU to the Central Industrial Prison at Long Bay where he hanged himself in a segregation yard on 7 June this year – he was 34 and left behind one child aged 9. His treatment constituted part of what Linda Doherty of the Herald, described as the, “new age attitude” of the HRMU that is “light years away from the sensorydeprivation of Katingal.”74


There is no stereotypical HRMU prisoner. There are too many exceptions to sustain the claim that the HRMU is designed exclusively for the worst prisoners in the NSW prison system. While the HRMU does detain some of the highest profile prisoners in NSW, it is clear from both Way and Georgiou that even these prisoner’s detention there is questionable as extra punishment meted out to prisoners (in the form of more onerous conditions of confinement), must be in relation to offences committed within the prison and separate from external offences.

Four years after Nagle released his findings and subsequent recommendations, Tony Vinson, the former Chairman of the NSW Corrective Services Commission remarked, “little has happened to detract from the basic wisdom of the Royal Commission into NSW Prisons.75

71 Letter from HRMU by Scott Simpson to Justice Action, dated 9 April 2003.

72 Letter from HRMU by Scott Simpson to Justice Action, dated 4 May 2003. At about the same time he wrote, “It’s not helping with my head at all Mum” (May 2003).
73 Regina v Scott Ashley Simpson [2004] NSWSC 233 (31 March 2004).
74 (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, Sydney

Considering the absence of substance distinguishing the HRMU from Katingal’s ‘electronic zoo’, it is disturbing to question what has happened since to allow the HRMU to be heralded as the “most modern” and “first Australian jail of the 21st century”. 76

The HRMU marks a system where people who have committed injustices in the community are made to suffer further injustices in silence, violently removed from the public consciousness and excluded from any guise of protection offered by our democratic process. HRMU policy is neither coherent nor consistent – rather it is at the whim of an autonomous Commissioner they call Rotten Ron, and a state government headed by a man who lustfully talks about “cementing inmates in”. The HRMU, or Harm-U as its prisoners know it is unaccountable, unregulated, inadequately justified, opaque in its operations and brutally opposed to even the most limited conception of humanity.


1. Appoint a new Commissioner – dilute her authority and discretion;
2. Rename the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Obscure Retribution;
3. Shut down the HRMU;
4. Call Alan Jones—help! No more supermax – fire and brimstone!



R v Georgiou, 70317 of 2001, (1 December 2003).
Regina v Stephen Andrew Gordon [2004] NSWCCA 45.
R v Bassam Hamzy
R v Mostyn [2004] NSWCCA 97.
Regina v Scott Ashley Simpson [2004] NSWSC 233 (31 March 2004).
R v Way [2004] NSWCCA 131

Serious Offenders Review Council, (7 January 2003), ‘Psychiatric Report’.
Jack Walker, (interview 18 November 2004).
Letter from Dr Richard Matthews, CEO Corrections Health Service, to Justice Action, (2 April 2003).
Letter from HRMU by Scott Simpson to Justice Action, dated 9 April 2003.
Letter from HRMU by Scott Simpson to Justice Action, dated 4 May 2003.
Letter from Scott Simpson to Terry Simpson, dated May 2003.
HRMU Prisoners, (19 November 2003), ‘Letter of Complaint’.
Letter from Justice Action to the Minister for Justice, (9 December 2003).
Rachel Knowles, Media Liaison Unit Department of Corrective Services, (9 September 2004), email.


Linda Doherty, (14 May 2001), ‘The walls go up to keep antisocial psychopaths down in the nation’s new super max jail’, p4.
Linda Doherty, (2-3 June 2001), ‘‘High-security prison to house the very worst’, Sydney Morning Herald, p4.
Stephen Gibbs, (26-27 July 2003), ‘Skaf stories part of a freak show: Libs’, Sydney Morning Herald at 7.
Stephen Gibbs, (26-27 July 2003), ‘Fear, loathing and politics’, Sydney Morning Herald, at 3.


Michel Foucault, (1977), Discipline and Punish, Penguin, London.
J.F. Nagle Royal Commissioner, (31 March 1978), Report of the Royal Commission into NSW
Prisons Volumes I, II and III, Government Printer, NSW.
Tony Vinson, (1982), Wilful Obstruction, Methuen Australia, Sydney.


David Brown, ‘The Nagle Royal Commission 25 Years On’, Alternative Law Journal, Vol 29:3 June 2004, at 138.


Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999
Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2001.


Bob Carr, (1 June 2001), ‘Premier Carr Opens the New HRMU in Goulburn Gaol – the Most
Secure in the Southern Hemisphere’, News Release,
Julian Faigan, (September 2001), ‘Focus on Goulburn as Premier opens HRMU’, (NSW
Department of Corrective Services), APCCA Newsletter No 13
The Hon. John Hatzistergos, Minister for Justice, (23 November 2004), “Questions on Notice”.
Mark Phillip Wilson, Acting Superintendent of the HRMU, (1 December 2003), ‘Affidavit’.
Miscellaneous ICAC, \(February 2004), ‘Report on investigation into the introduction of contraband into the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre.
NSW Legislative Council Hansard, 25 June 2003, (article 18).
NSW Legislative Council Hansard 17 November 2004, (article 19),
NSW Legislative Council Hansard 27 October 2004 (article 19).

by Neal Funnel posted 15 December 2004


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