Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Judge blasts security firm over shackled defendants

ONE of WA's most senior judges has severely criticised the company that guards prisoners at the state's courts, after two prisoners were brought to the dock in shackles against her wishes.

WA District Court Chief Judge Antoinette Kennedy took the extraordinary step of summoning a security supervisor for the AIMS Corporation on a contempt of court charge, after two high-risk prisoners appeared before her in leg irons and handcuffs.

In court, last week James Andrew Sweeney, 28 - one of the nine men who last year escaped from the custody cells in Perth's Supreme Court - appeared before Judge Kennedy in chains, after she had earlier warned AIMS guards she did not want to see him handcuffed.

After having ordered the custody supervisor, Chris Blottin, to appear before her for contempt, white supremacist lead Jack Van Tongeren was then also brought to court in shackles, prompting Judge Kennedy to say she would not tolerate the apparent disregard of her orders.

"The service that AIMS is providing, if you can call it that, cannot continue," Judge Kennedy said.

Despite the censure, at a later hearing for Van Tongeren in Perth Magistrate's Court, he again appeared in shackles. His lawyer Michael Clarke expressed his displeasure to magistrate Pamela Hogan.

"It appears someone is not getting the message," Mr Clarke said.

Representing Mr Blottin at his contempt hearing this afternoon, lawyer Basil Georgiou said the AIMS officer profusely apologised for his actions, claiming he had not acted in deliberate defiance of the judge but out of a concern of possible escape.

In reply, the judge said she accepted Mr Blottin's apology but the problems with AIMS had been going on for years.

"If this was just a one-off incident then I would not have taken such drastic action. But this is not a one-off; it has been going on for three years," Judge Kennedy said.

"It is unthinkable that a judge's order would not be obeyed, and unthinkable a supervisor would countermand a judge's order."

The judge's comments are the latest in a series of setbacks for AIMS, widely criticised after the mass breakout from the Supreme Court last year.

That led to AIMS being dumped from guarding prisoners at WA's Supreme Court, and being fined more than $420,000 by the state government.

By TIM CLARKE posted 19 January 05


A house divided
Plantation owners and overseers used heavy iron shackles to punish and humiliate defiant slaves, both men and women and especially those who tried to run away. Slaves who had been sold were also shackled while being moved to another location. Arm and leg shackles were the most common type of restraints, but stocks, neck collars, and the ball and chain were also used. This pair of iron leg shackles is typical of the kind used on Southern plantations during the mid-nineteenth century.


Crisis Brewing in State Jails
WA: Figures released today reveal one of the states worst kept secrets 'the prisons are filling fast and will soon be overflowing. The ABS figures released today showed that Western Australia's imprisonment rate continued to outstrip every other state in Australia.