Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chronology of a Tasmanian Prison System: A Documented Report

'Rest in peace young man' Who was this youth? What happened to him? We would also like to make note that we have had situations of similar natures brought to our attention, which currently is subject to more details and more confirmation. It is disturbing to know, that the youth mentioned was not an isolated incident.

Prison Action and Reform is dedicated to progressive reforms in criminal justice and to the humane treatment of inmates in our prison system.

We believe that the people of Tasmania - both victims of crime and the general public - have the right to know that the Tasmania Prison Service is delivering a humane and just system of containment that is conducive to the reintegration of inmates back into Tasmanian society.

We are a growing group of individuals that span from academics, parents, and family members, ex inmates and concerned individuals; brought together out of our great concern for a system that presently leaves a lot to be desired as presently anarchy lives within our whole Prison System.

We balk at hearing horrific actual happenings to the young offenders who are in prison to serve their time, not to receive assault and battery and become victims of crime.......this is not part of the punishment society decreed.

We are saddened and are also angered that the young and most vulnerable are being and have been harmed immeasurably which leads to their despair, lack of hope and sadly in some youth suicide.

Prison Action and Reform question the validity of The Tasmanian "Executive Government Officers" lack of credence through their lack of action that such crimes within Tasmanian Prisons go unpunished.

Our prison system is operated and staffed by the Department of Justice and Industrial Relations ("DJIR"), through its Corrective Services Division.

There is also staff employed by the Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS") who comprise the Forensic Mental Health Service ("MHS")

Section 6 (1) Provides in relation to the Director of Corrective Services

(a) For the care and direction of all prisons, prisoners and detainees and the control of all prisons. For the order and control of all prisoner and detainees. Section 29 (1) Every prisoner and detainee has the following rights:

(f) The right to have access to reasonable medical care and treatment necessary for the preservation and health.

(g) If intellectually disabled or mentally ill, the right to have reasonable access within the prison or, with the Director's approval, outside the prison to such special care and treatment as a medical officer considers necessary or desirable in the circumstances."

We began in June 2000 as the lobby group Correctional Justice Reform Alliance which was formed in response to the 5 Deaths In Custody in the period August 1999 to January 2000; we have since broadened with the new lobby group Prison Action & Reform.

We felt that it was necessary to have a group that was completely independent, that was non political and that was non organizational.

In short we answer to nobody.

People who have joined our group no longer feel as isolated and scared, and this in its self is a great accomplishment. The stronger we feel the stronger we fight.

Our ultimate goal would be to bring together all those that have been damaged either as a prisoner or as a family member and make those that were ultimately responsible be made accountable.

For these people are now also victims, they're victims of the system.

We have previously called upon the 'Bacon Government,' for the establishment of a statutory body - a prison inspectorate:

Please note: names have been altered from the original letter.

Dear Mr. Bacon,

We feel that it is time that you were involved and made aware of issues that we have regarding Risdon prison. In particular, we are calling for the establishment of a statutory body - a prison inspectorate - with the express purpose of bringing independent external scrutiny to the standards and operational practices relating to custodial services in Tasmania. We believe that such a body is vital to prison reform and to the provision of progressive, effective prison services in this State. The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services, recently instituted in Western Australia, provides an exemplary model of this kind of body.

We are very concerned about the secrecy, neglect and the abuse of inmates that so often features in our present prison system. We are especially disturbed by the actions of particular custodial officers, and how they abuse their position of power. We note, as well, that many custodial officers do not appear to be able to meet their job requirements. We are also concerned about the delays in reform to prison operations, to improvements in prison standards and in the development of strategies that would challenge existing prison culture.

While supporting a new and improved Official Visitor role, we do not believe that this is adequate if substantial change and improvements within our prison system are to occur. For this, we require an independent body, that reports to parliament, and which can undertake systematic inspections and policy review.

The Office of the Ombudsman has proven to be very limited, in both the type of activities dealt with under its mandate, and with regard to its actual responses to the problems and grievances of inmates. For example, the recent Coroner's Inquest into deaths at Risdon Prison revealed that both Laurence Santos and Jack Newman had made complaints to the Ombudsman's Office. Neither complaint was responded to or acted upon. We also have in our possession two letters from an inmate that were sent to the ombudsman. One was sent immediately after the death of Chris Douglas, in which the inmate expresses his concern about another inmate who was housed in his yard (Fabian Long.) He writes again after Fabian's death. His letters were never responded to. Fabian's mother also wrote to the Ombudsman raising concerns about her son - again not responded to.

All of those who died, died because they were denied their duty of care, and each of them knew there was nothing they could do to change their situation. Had there been in place an independent body, with the power to address complaints as well as undertake inspections, then our loved one's may not have had to endure what finally pushed them over. They might still be with us today.

Attached is correspondence we have made to Risdon Prison and the Justice Department concerning inmate Tony Bull. There still has not been a satisfactory outcome to this case, and it is still continuing. We have also been inundated with phone calls from families of inmates with similar stories of abuse and mistreatment:

By Prison Action & Reform posted 11 May 05


Risdon prisoners' seize prison to protest mistreatment
Apparently one prisoner had been mistreated and held in isolation in an SHU (Segregation Housing Unit) [Solitary Confinement] because, he'd had and altercation with a screw. SHUs cause severe mental harm - regarded as torture - and are a cruel, inhumane and degrading way to keep prisoners.

No Safe Place
In a brief four month span from August 1999, five men died in Tasmania's Risdon prison. Their deaths have put the state's corrections system in the dock and led to the planned demolition of a jail which even the State's Attorney-General now calls an "appalling facility".

Association for the Prevention of Torture
The Optional Protocol requires 20 ratifications to enter into force. All States Parties to the UN Convention against Torture should seriously consider ratifying the OPCAT as soon as possible. National Institutions and others promoting the human rights of people deprived of their liberty need to be informed of their potential role as national preventive mechanisms under the OPCAT.

Corrected or Corrupted
A psychiatrist from the prison Mental Health Team attached to Queensland Health made the comment that 25 per cent of inmates suffer from a diagnosed mental illness.

ICOPA XI International Conference on Penal Abolition
We are excited to announce that ICOPA X1, the eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition will happen in Tasmania, Australia from February 9 - 11,2006. Please pass this onto all networks.

Ex-Prisoner Locked Out of Prison
The NSW Department of Corrective Services (DCS) has revealed a policy which bans ex-prisoners from entering prisons.

Justice Action: Access to our community
NSW: Justice Action went to the NSW Supreme Court before the last Federal election on the constitutional right for prisoners to receive information for their vote. The government avoided the hearing by bringing prisoners' mobile polling booths forward. We pursued it after the election. This is the report.

Overhaul Department of Justice: Reform Group
WA: The Prison Reform Group of WA is calling for a complete overhaul of the Department of Justice following recent events which have compromised its integrity, placing prison staff, prisoners, their families and the community, at risk. We call for the Minister to publicly apologise for last week's debacle which has seen the public badly let down by the Department of Justice yet again.

14,500 children in NSW go to bed each night with a parent in prison!

Craig Annesley: Miscarriage of Justice
The reason for this article is because a Secretary at the Council for Civil Liberties stated to me that they haven't got the funding to help me with a false imprisonment case which happened February 97 - and in February 2005, it will be 7 years after the incident which will mean I will be too late to bring a civil case to court?

Detention Centres, Solitary Confinement
On Friday night the NSW Council for Civil Liberties awarded Sydney solicitor John Marsden honorary life membership. Julian Burnside was invited to make the speech in Marsden's honour. In the course of his speech, Burnside referred to the unregulated use of solitary confinement in Australia's immigration detention centres, criticising it as inhumane and also as unlawful.

In memory of the late Bob Jewson
Some will remember that Bob was In the Bathurst riot in February 1974 and was a leading member of the Prisoners Action Group now - (JusticeACTION) upon his release. He wrote Stir, the screenplay upon which the film Stir was based. He played a major role in agitating for a Royal Commission into the events at Bathurst, and when the Nagle Commission commenced hearings Bob was to be found every day sitting in court for the duration, following proceedings for the PAG.

Critical Resistance - Sydney
Just a reminder message about the meeting this Wednesday, if any of you are able to come down after BBA meeting. Apologies about the clash of days, definitely not intended. It seems great minds think alike!

2nd Renaissance - Beyond Industrial Capitalism and Nation States Some Practicalities Of Emptying The Prisons [287] Given the importance that prisons and punishment have in maintaining control of increasingly restless populations, the task of achieving the release of the people in the jails and the closure of those institutions, seems daunting. But it is so vital to the 2nd Renaissance that we must find ways to do it.