Draft Detainee Strike Strategy Paper


Draft Strategy Paper, 08 August 2011

For many years, Justice Action has been asked by detainees to coordinate a strike recognising their status as human beings with human rights. This has become a more frequent demand due to a lack of response from the Government relating to the ‘Offer of Hope’ refer to note 1, a prisoner initiative calling for government recognition of prisoners’ rights, and the ‘OUR PICK Report’, which exposes callous indifference to mental health patients (consumers). Through consultation, we have decided to raise our concerns once again while simultaneously having a strategic strike in place, which will be initiated if the Government continues to refuse to respond.

As one prisoner said, “We indeed have nothing to lose but our chains.”


The Offer of Hope was launched on the International Human Rights Day in 2005. It represents a prisoner initiative made to governments aimed at breaking the cycle of destructive vengeance in prisons. In the spirit of the motto from the Special Care Unit at Long Bay Gaol, Sydney:  "Freedom with responsibility: responsibility to self and community", prisoners have called upon governments to acknowledge their loss of freedom and entitlement to all other rights and safeguards provided to those outside prison.


Justice Action has represented detainee interests for decades through our work with prisoners, consumers and their communities. We represented all Australian detainees at the 2009 consultation for the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We defended Australian prisoners’ right to vote in 1997 and 2006, and presented for prisoners against privatisation in 2009. We have conducted prisoner consultations nationally and internationally. Justice Action is recognised by the union movement as tracking its history to the beginning of the penal colony. 


Prisoners, consumers, juvenile justice detainees and refugees have suffered increasingly over the past few decades due to an erosion of respect for their entitled human rights and liberties. Below are a few examples. Refer to note 3 for an extended version.

1.    Lithgow prisoners under threat to lose their right to smoke. Since May 3, 2008, NSW health has refused consumers, who are even more vulnerable than prisoners, the right to smoke.

2.    Prisoners die in custody due to institutional practices.

3.    Because of a lack of community support, and appropriate housing, prisoners are dying within the first year of their release back into their communities.

4.    Inadequate response to healthcare issues such as a non-supply of clean needles and syringes, means prisoners are highly susceptible to disease and illness.

5.    Dr Adrian Keller, the most senior figure in control of the hospital system, has abused the myth that mental health patients are predominantly dangerous. His agenda was to obtain extra funds for force medication and lock-up of consumers.

6.    Pelican Bay Prisoners involved in their hunger strike have asked for support.

7.    Women prisoners at Emu Plains Prison have lost the right to all day visits. This is detrimental to their ability to maintain a bond with their children and families, a significant factor that correlates with one’s well-being and self-esteem.

8.    Refugees are being placed in mandatory detention that has negative psychological and physical effects. Community processing based on inclusion represents a cost-effective and humane alternative.


-       This will be a disciplined non-violent strike.

-       Anyone physically injuring anyone else is destructive to the strategy and will be declared a non-participant.

-       Different people can support it in different ways.

-       We only end it when we have won. There will be no short-term victories.


-       Respect for our human rights - that OPCAT be enforced by law

-       Community access – access by families and communities

-       Freedom of expression – to vote, to communication

-       Freedom of association – no solitary confinement, the freedom to be a member of a group and express collective concerns and interests, and to not to be forced in a cell with an undesirable person (forcibly associated)

-       Privacy in detention – entitlement to smoke and not to be forcibly medicated

-       Control of services – right to choose legal, health and aftercare service providers

-       Representation in all issues affecting us with our communities in support

-       No privatisation – only governments can lock up citizens. Corporations make money from our misery expanding imprisonment and cutting costs. They control prisoners’ lives like slaves.

-       Privacy after detention – entitlement to a clean slate supported by defamation law

-       Refugees processed with the goal of community inclusion

-       Communities listened to by government


To be addressed during the consultation period.


·      Personal decisions – not imposed by threats or violence

·      Non-compliance with authority

·      Sickies, go slow

·      Shut down - work in all industries and administration to cease

·      Remain in cells/yards

·      Daily meetings and reports


To be announced


Senator Kerry Nettle; Dr Arthur Chesterfield Evans MLC; Peter Garrett MP; Lee Rhiannon MLC; The Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Sisters Inside; Prison Action and Reform-Tasmania; Deaths in Custody Watch Committee-WA; Indigenous Social Justice Association; Professor David Brown-UNSW; Mick Doleman, Asst Fed Secretary, MUA; John Maitland National Secretary CFMEU; Australian Aid for Ireland; Mercy Foundation; Redfern Legal Centre; Prisoners Legal Service-Qld; Stop the War Coalition.


A coalition based in the Bay Area with international supporters of prisoner rights advocates, lawyers, community members and anti-prison activist organizations. Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison initiated the coalition and hunger strike. Coalition partners include: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, California Prison Focus, Prison Activist Resource Center, Critical Resistance, Kersplebedeb, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Revolution Newspaper, American Friends Service Committee, BarNone Arcata, and a number of individuals throughout the United States and Canada. To get in contact with the coalition, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more info: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/



MPs, lawyers responsive to Strike Committees, ancilliary staff



Inside institutions



Note 1

Offer of Hope

Offer of Hope was launched on the International Human Rights Day in 2005. It represents a prisoner initiative made to governments aimed at breaking the cycle of destructive vengeance in prisons. In the spirit of the motto from the Special Care Unit at Long Bay Gaol, Sydney:  "Freedom with responsibility: responsibility to self and community", prisoners have called upon governments to acknowledge their loss of freedom and entitlement to all other rights and safeguards provided to those outside prison.

We ask for your help with:

-       education

-       medical care

-       contact with family, friends and the community.

We ask for our trust with:

-       freedom of association: (no solitary confinement, the freedom to be a member of a group and express collective concerns and interests; and to not to be forced in a cell with an undesirable person)

-       freedom of speech

We ask for you to believe we:

-       are humans with rights and entitlements

-       can change

-       have lives that are equally important as all human beings

We promise to make a positive contribution to society with a commitment to non-violence.

Note 2

Optional Protocol for the Prevention of Torture (OPCAT)

Australia is a signatory to the OPCAT but it has not yet been ratified. Denmark and the Netherlands recently questioned Australia as to when it would ratify the protocol. 50 other states and countries, including the U.K., have ratified it. By ratifying OPCAT, Australia will be obligated to establish National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, undignified or degrading treatment or punishment. The NPMs primarily achieve this through visits-based inspections that cover all places of detention, including offshore facilities such as immigration and military establishments. Due to OPCAT having a wide scope, it also applies to any facility or function where involuntary detainment occurs. Thus aged-care homes, police transport and court security for example must also be covered by these inspection systems.


Note 3

The Reasons

 1. Lithgow prisoners are under threat of losing their right to smoke in their cells without even being consulted. 80% of prisoners smoke, it is legal and one of the few pleasures controlled by prisoners. Prisoners have been entitled to smoke since the beginning of the penal colony, yet now that right to a simple pleasure is being threatened.

2. Prisoners die in custody due to institutional practices. A classic example is the case of Scott Simpson who was placed in segregation after killing a fellow inmate during an acute psychotic episode in 2002. During his segregation, Simpson was targeted, beaten and isolated until he became mentally ill. After four separate attempts over a 2-year period, Simpson finally took his own life.

3. Because of a lack of community support, and appropriate housing, many prisoners are dying within the first year of their release back into their communities. In a recent study conducted by the Medical Journal of Australia, research found that in 2007-2008, between 449 and 472 ex-prisoners died within 1 year of their release. Of these, between 68 and 138 died within 4 weeks of their release. This highlights ex-prisoners as being extremely vulnerable and being in requirement of better support services. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/195_02_180711/kin10879_fm.html

4. In prisons, an inadequate response to healthcare concerns means that prisoners are highly susceptible to disease and illness. Prisoners are being refused clean needles and syringes. With 50% of prisoners being infected with a virus, and 60% of women prisoners having hepatitis C without normal treatment, the risk of non-infected prisoners becoming infected through the use of dirty syringes and needles is a massive issue

5. Following the most recent attack on mental health consumers where the most senior person in control of the hospital system, Dr Adrian Keller used the myth of consumer dangerousness to claim more money for forced medication and locking up the vulnerable. Calls have come from the hospital system to draw the line and call a strike.

6. We have been asked for support from the Pelican Bay Prison hunger strikers to demand an end to their torturous conditions.  http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

7. Prisoners and their families have lost visiting rights.

Women prisoners at Emu Plains Prison and their families have lost the right to all day visits. This is detrimental to all prisoners, families and the outside community as it decreases chances to creating and maintaining a strong support network.


8. Refugees processed with the goal of community inclusion - The UN Refugee Agency suggests the mandatory detention of refugees is an ineffective approach to deterrence, and a violation of international law.  Refugees, especially children and families, should be processed and released in the community ASAP rather than being treated as criminals. The institutionalisation of refugees further traumatises them both physically and mentally. Allowing refugees to enter the community could save the Government 69% of their $2 billion detention expenditure.


9. Communities ignored by government – For example, a government proposal to build a new women’s gaol in Windsor received 138 community submissions, 137 said no. The proposed attempt to privatise Parklea Prison received 453 submissions, 442 said no.


Emu Plains Update 11/06

30 Nov 06 - The Campaign to return all-day visits to Emu Plains

Visiting at Emu Plains came up at the last hearing before the Parliamentary Committee GPSC3 on 17/11/06. Some truth came out and the Department's (DCS) intentions were made clear.
Download campaign Flyer (PDF. 54k)

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Acts up for Review

The Mental Health Act 1990 and The Mental Health (Criminal Procedure) Act 1990 Are Up For Review
The Hon. Greg James QC, President of the Mental Health Review Tribunal, has examined options for reform of mental health within the prison sector. The central issue considered in this review is the appropriate authority or person to make decisions in relation to the terms and conditions of detention, release and conditional release of forensic patients. The Paper provides a discussion of various reform options in relation to such decision-making, including arguments for and against replacing the current system of executive discretion with a more structured system operating through the Mental Health Review Tribunal or the courts. The paper also examines the therapeutic and detention mechanisms for forensic patients and the inter relationship of the mental health and justice systems, as well as the role of victims in those systems, with a discussion of various options. Consequential and complementary options are also considered. 


Prisoner Voting Rights_310807

FofE.jpgVoting Rights for Prisoners report 2/07

In Aug 2004 Federal Parliament restricted the right to vote in Federal elections to those serving sentences of three years or less.

Now the coalition has barred all prisoners from voting in federal elections with the introduction in late 2006 of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act.

There is no evidence that disenfranchising prisoners deters crime or assists in rehabilitation. It is more likely to increase alienation and disengagement from mainstream society and any sense of civic responsibility.

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Inspector General

Save the Inspector General

The Department of Corrective Services is unique in that it is the only Department in which the government has total control over its citizens.

This requires extra care to ensure that the extraordinary powers are not abused. It is necessary for there to be correspondingly extraordinary accountability, safeguards and specialist knowledge. The trend in other states is to maintain an office of Inspector General.


Save the Inspector General - Response to Review

Save the Inspector General - Submission

Emu Plains Prison Visits

Return All Day Visits

The Department of Corrective Service has unexpectedly withdrawn traditional “all day visits” for family and friends visiting the women in Emu Plains.

This has affected the children who relied upon that contact with their mothers. Children of prisoners are six times as likely to have mental health problems.

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Prison boom will prove a social bust

January 18, 2005
Hardened criminals are not filling NSW's prisons - the mentally ill and socially disadvantaged are, writes Eileen Baldry.

The NSW Premier, Bob Carr, proudly announced last Thursday that this state has more than 9000 of its citizens in prison, a record number and one equal to almost half of all prisoners in Australia. Far from being proud of this, Carr should be deeply ashamed. The 50 per cent increase in prisoners over the past decade is a clear indication of failure on the part of government to deal effectively with serious social problems.

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Jail at Windsor

Stop the Womens Jail is working to ensure that the proposed womens jail at Windsor is not constructed. We are determined to see that the unanimous recommendations of the multi-party Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population are implemented.

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Therapeutic Communities

Therapeutic communities with restorative justice and mentoring are effective
solutions to community problems. Our own experience of positive responses to
trust and sharing are entirely applicable in the area of crime. The Alexander
Maconochie’s Norfolk Island experience, Jimmy Boyle’s story of the Barlinnie
Unit in Scotland, and the Special Care Unit in Long Bay are documented
examples of how they work effectively.

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Group Violence

The Dynamics of Group Violence
The Australian Institute of Criminology has released a report examining some of the factors behind group violence:
Swarming and the social dynamics of group violence
Rob White

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