Sunday, February 6, 2005

Prison visits in crisis in NSW

The reason I am writing today is to address a difficult situation that my husband and my family are going through. My husband is currently serving a sentence at Lithgow Correctional Centre in NSW.

On the 20th of November 2004, an incident took place at Lithgow Correctional Centre due to my poor level of concentration during the visit.

On that day I was taking my husband a pair of pajamas and mistakenly left my own cell phone in the same bag as his pajamas when I passed them to the prison officer at the entrance of the prison.

The pajamas were meant to be taken though the jail's reception room and on to my husband from that point. Not my personal phone and because I accidentally left my phone in the same bag when it was located by the officers I was accused of trying to pass off my own mobile phone with the pajamas to my husband and now I have been banned from visiting my partner for 3 years.

In March 1999, after finding out he was in one of the NSW prisons I was finally able to locate him, at Lithgow Correctional Centre. Then I proceeded to pay a personal visit not only in disbelief but also in great fear because the prison would be a new environment to me.

Soon after my first visit I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to continue to place my family and myself in this institution. I eventually decided to keep visiting the prison on a weekly basis considering that my husband and I had a long history together and after seeing where he was I thought that I couldn't let him go through this process alone.

Unfortunately little did I really know at the time what I was about to experience in my life. During my visit to the prison I have personally encountered and witnessed so many terrifying scenes.

For several years when visiting the prison I have made different attempts to find a way of understanding the system. Not only by making verbal complains but also writing letters of complaint about several issues that my family and I have been exposed to. But instead I have now became a target, and set up to fail on different occasions and have constantly been tormented by officers for speaking up for it. I have requested legal explanation for the officer's abuse to me and my family directly.

I found it extremely impossible to be able to concentrate and focus 100 per cent of the time due to my human nature when visiting Lithgow Correctional Centre. I have been forced not to make a single human error when dealing with them or look out.

Today I am facing a similar incident again like that which had occurred on 19 September 2002, when I was banned for 2 years due to prison officer's making claims against me. On that particular occasion I was forced to seek Legal representation due to my lack of knowledge and understanding about how to address the horrible issues I was experiencing with the Department of Corrective Service (DCS).

Back then a summons was served on DCS by the solicitors representing me at the time and the case was dropped before the court hearing at the NSW Supreme Court. Subsequently after the hearing I was granted access to visit my partner.

Since then however, the personal issues I have faced, in a very cruel manner, exposed me to be humiliated and diminish as a woman once again by the DCS in every way possible. And to the extend to that I was forced to abandon my job due to the high level of stress that I have been exposed to by officers when attending Lithgow Correctional Centre.

DCS are violating and abusing our human rights in every way possible. This behavior would never be tolerated in our social environment. Yet no rules are applied to those abusing visitors' human rights and standards. Therefore causing single mothers, families, and friends to lose their privacy, dignity and respect as human beings. In a majority of cases visitors are then forced to leave their loved ones abandoned and forgotten because of the emotional pressure and environment of the prison regime. DCS are making it hard for families and friends to be able to know each other.

I am so disappointed not finding a solution to my personal situation. Unfortunately after having to mention my personal matters with a few public authorities I haven't been able to get any reasonable assistance either.

On 17 December 2004, I contacted the NSW Ombudsman's office by telephone and had a conversation with Ms Samantha Guillard, Complaints Officer, Corrections she stated that there wasn't much she could do in regards to our family situation due to the Department of Corrective Services discretionary powers. Then she added I was not the only person suffering as a visitor when visiting the prisons and also stated that I could take it further by using my own legal representation.

I then phoned the Prisoners Aid Association, and I explained that my partner and myself were encouraged instead to remain silent because it was obvious that my complaining was not only jeopardising my privilege as a visitor but my partner as well being within the prison due to officers retributions.

There are hundreds of families suffering the consequences of the prison system. A prison system out of control in my view that is emotionally and psychologically affecting those families when they are constantly being set up and exposed to mind games by officers within the prison system.

I have personally been going through so many difficulties with the DCS due to officers over using their power of authority and while performing their duties.

It's unspeakable and humiliating what they have put my family through lately The Prison has a fancy name for their misbehavior and it's called Maintaining Security and Order of the Prison, but I can assure you there is no such thing. The majority of groups affected by this cultural style of management are only inmates, families and their friends who are visiting them.

During the years I have attended those centers for visits while waiting to have access to the visitors reception office I have been a victim myself. My family has witnessed the officers work culture and work performances since 1999 on a weekly basis. There have been some cases where the officer's allegations could be valid against visitors but 95% of the time every single visitor is treated as a criminal for visiting the correctional centre.

I have been embarrassed, brought to tears in front of officers and visitors alike because of this constant harassment by prison staff each time I have attempted to visit my husband.

On the 1 August 2004, while attending Lithgow Correctional Centre visiting my partner, one officer related to him so badly that he humiliated my children and I in front of everyone. Then the prison officer terminated my visit for asking why! Why was my family and I constantly exposed to such horrible humiliation in front of everyone? I was told by the same officer and some senior officers that I was going to be reported to the governor, like I was the prisoner.

The following week I waited to see if the governor would have something to say in regards to the altercation with the officers concerned but nothing was mentioned. I did not want to make my life impossible and personally kept quite to avoid more issues but it has been very near impossible to live in silence because it has started to affect my health.

Another issue was that when booking my visit at Lithgow it had to be done twice a week instead of once a week. After several times I had called early in the week and booked it no problem but when I showed up at Lithgow to visit, my booking wasn't listed Due to their inconsistency I was forced to call early in the week and later on Friday. I must call again to double-check to avoid and minimise horrible dramas and financial hardship on our family by taking the time and cost to visit only to be denied when we arrived after many hours journey to get to the prison.

My visit on numerous occasions has been denied due to the officers discretion and in one of the latest incidents when making a verbal complaint to a high seniority officers about an officers horrific manners toward our family I was told that it's only a perceive harassment and everything they were doing was their jobs?

The majority of the people paying the consequences are single mothers, and in most cases with little babies who happened to travel by public transport for hours and hours in order visit their love ones in prisons. Not forgetting that the same long journey will be a lot longer to get back home as they have to wait for hours outside prison for the only bus that came back again to the prison hours later when their visit are cancelled for one reason or other. Woman in particular are constantly targeted, and abused beyond comprehension.

During these past years all I could hear was that it's about crime in the prison system but there was nothing said about the horrific emotional abuse that families are exposed to. We all hear about drug dealing, smuggling, and contraband but: is the real truth been said? For I have a real story how I was set up to fail and set up as a criminal and when I think of the cruelty and dishonesty that was done to me I'm overwhelmed by what could happen to my husband and other visitors.

I have been set up as perfect prey to cover up the officers corrupted ways in running the prison system, It's proven reality that there has been prison officers caught up in corruption while performing their duties and working for the Department of Corrective Services. They have done the same to visitors in my situation by anylising the inmate visitors intellectual levels and setting them up to fail in every possible way imaginable in order to establish their own domain and rules that only benefit the department. Inmates and families are disadvantaged and in a vulnerable situation.

Maggots in the meat!

I am also very concerned regarding the meals provided by the Lithgow Correctional Centre to inmates. My husband tells me how bad they are. I get extremely worried when I discover that there is nothing being done to stop him and other inmates from eating those meal portions. On so many occasions they get very sick due to food poisoning.

Since the last time David got very sick I have begged him not to eat anything given out by the prison and it was better to place an extra food order from the buy ups to avoid eating the rotten meals from the prison.

Their meals on so many occasions have gone off, not cooked properly or rotten after sitting outside their wings parked in trolleys and exposed to the sun for long periods, even hours. When I asked David all he said was, "Look that's how it is for us! But, don't worry."

I asked my local member of parliament Mr Allan Shearan MP , Member for Londonderry about what would be the best thing for me to do in regards to this matter effectively.

He writes: "You will recall I made representations on you behalf to the Minister for Justice concerning your request for a review of the 3-year ban on your visits to all correctional centres in NSW.

Following a review of your request, the minister has advised me that the ban has been upheld in view of the serious nature of the incident.

The minister further advises that the Department is prepared to consider revocation of the prohibition after 23 November 2007, upon formal application in writing from you at the time.

I trust this explains the position on this matter and I thank you for allowing me to assist you with this matter.

The following is from Mr John Hatzistergos Minister of Justice to Allan Shearan MP.

"I refer to you representations on behalf of you constituent, Mrs Mercedes xxxxx of xxxxx who has requested a review of the three year ban on her visits to all correctional centres in NSW.

Mrs xxxxx also sent a similar letter to my office, addressed to one of my staff.

The Commissioner of Corrective Services has advised me that as a result of your representations, Mrs xxxxx visiting privileges were reviewed by the Executive Director, Office of the Commissioner.

However, I am advised that this current prohibition has been upheld in view of the serious nature of the incident, which involved the attempt by Mrs xxxxxx to introduce a contraband item into Lithgow Correctional Centre.

I am further advised that this is the second occasion in which Mrs xxxxx has been involved in an incident whereby contraband was secreted in property being deposited for an inmate.

The Commissioner has further advised that the Department is prepared to consider revocation of the prohibition after 23 November 2007, upon formal application in writing from Mrs xxxxx at the time.

Yours faithfully
(John Hatzistergos)

After having to deal on my own with this disgusting and dishonest response from the Minister and the corrupted prison system I cannot believe that I am expected to just let them do this to me.

I have not done what those officers at Lithgow have accused me of doing and my husband is being treated like an animal in a cage and not like he's a human being in a state prison.

David only has me to support him whilst in custody. What I want to know is where is the integrity from the staff of the correctional center for the visitors who have given up so much time and effort to be there with their loved ones?

By Mrs Mercedes xxxxx 6 February 05


Where the Norm is Not the Norm:

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:

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