Nagle Royal Commission Report

The Nagle Royal Commission Report has been digitised for the first time and is here available.

The fact that it has not been available is proof that those who were condemned by Justice Nagle for their “brutality and savagery” were never held responsible and are still in charge. The lack of safety for those in the secret places called prisons is a blight on our civilisation. Use of force is out of control.

Nagle Royal Commission Lessons – draft 30/11/12


On 22nd November 2012, the headline article in the Sydney Morning Herald brings the spotlight back onto the rampant assaults and blatant lies by prison officers once again. The ongoing history and exposure on the ‘use of force’ of prison officials can be traced back all the way to the Nagle Report, a report by the Royal Commission investigating the conditions and treatment that face prisoners on a daily basis. It was a shocking publication that caused a great outcry in the parliament and general public. However, the report was never digitized and made available to the public, and was effectively concealed from our community.

Nevertheless, Justice Action has compiled a complete electronic copy for the ‘Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons’, and seeks to draw public and community awareness to the brutality and savagery that still exists in NSW prisons. The prisoners in NSW have suffered for far too long, and it is time that their suppressed voices are finally acknowledged in order to help rid of the power abuse rampant within the prison walls. Many lessons are to be learnt in the, and this paper seeks takes a comprehensive look into one of the most important Report for the future of the NSW prison system. The contents of this paper will be set out as follows:

  • Background history and the basis for the Nagle Report
  • Impact of the Nagle Report
  • Importance of the Nagle Report in the present

Background history and basis for the Nagle Report

In 1970, prison officials in Bathurst prison retaliated violently against protesting prisoners, participating in a ‘systematic flogging’ of almost all the prisoners in the gaol. Following the ‘Bathurst Batterings’ as they came to be known, an inquiry was conducted by the Department of Corrective Services. However, the Department failed to issue any directions condemning the use of force against prisoners, and continued to dismiss allegations of misconduct.[1] In 1974, another high profile riot took place in Bathurst prison once again. Petrol bombs were thrown into various buildings in the prison complex, starting with the prison chapel. This led to prison officers being issued with arms, and began firing on the prisoners despite receiving orders from departmental headquarters that were in direct contravention to opening fire. The damage caused as a result of the riot would cost over $10 million to fix.[2] This culmination of events led to the formation of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prison.

In 1976, then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE issued the Royal Commission, led by the Honourable Mr. Justice Nagle, to ‘inquire into and report upon the general working of the Department of Corrective Services of New South Wales, its policies, facilities and practices in the light of contemporary penal practice and knowledge of crime and its causes, and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, to inquire into and report upon:

(a) the custody, care and control of prisoners and the relationship between staff and prisoners;

(b) the selection and training of prison officers and of other staff engaged in training, correctional and rehabilitative programmes for prisoners,

and to recommend any legislative and other changes necessary or desirable in consequence of its findings.’[3]

Justice Nagle took upon this task and sought to prepare an in-depth report. After touring jails in North America and Europe, Justice Nagle began to take a detailed look at NSW prisons, where he was horrified by the pre-existing conditions and the brutality infested within them.[4] The inquiry led to a hard-hitting report that drew attention to the extreme misuse of power by the likes of ordinary prison guards all the way to high-ranking officials.

The Report gave a comprehensive description on the horrible and grotesque living conditions that prisoners deal with every day, including constant physical and mental torture in the hands of prison guards. It is best summed up by Mr. Petersen in the Legislative Assembly of 19 August 1980, ‘every decent person who has studied even a summary of the Nagle report was disgusted at the revelations in the report, revelations that atrocities of violence had been perpetrated that can be described only as gross betrayals of the human condition by the authorities concerned.’[5]

Impact of the Nagle Report

In the aftermath of the Nagle Report’s release, government took hasty action and implemented a majority of the recommendations outlined in the report. In particular, the closure of Katingal was one of the first courses of action, but many did not take kindly to the Government closing the facility, as it was done so without a backup plan:

‘There was nothing in the recommendations of Mr. Justice Nagle about Katingal ceasing within one month. Therefore, the Premier’s decision was made with obscene haste.’ – Mr. Barraclough; Legislative Assembly, 22 August 1979 [6]

‘I believe that when he spoke about closing Katingal he did not mean it had to be done within a month but only after suitable alternatives were provided. It was the quick decision of the Premier and the Government which has caused the problems. I say this kindly: the Government has often got into trouble through some of these quick and hasty decisions.’ – Mr. Morris; Legislative Assembly address in reply, 11 September 1979 [7]

As such, there was a mention in the by the Honorable R. D. Dyer in the 16 September 1980 legislative council that ‘a Government committee is now considering ways of making Katingal an effective security unit and bringing it back into service.’[8] In less than 3 years since its absolute condemnation in the Nagle Report, the nightmare of Katingal was going to be brought back into service once again.

Furthermore, even with the majority of the listed recommendations in the report have been implemented in late 1980, the criticism have not stopped:

‘The recommendations made by the Nagle Royal commission are not understood by the public, and the Government has done little to explain them.’ – Mr. Healey; Legislative Assembly, 14 October 1980 [9]

‘… His implementation of the recommendations has obviously been a disaster; it has failed to resolve the problems in the State’s prisons.’ – Mr. Mason; Legislative Assembly, 28 October 1980 [10]

‘The Minister passes off a blind commitment to the Nagle report as an excuse for a policy. Last week the Premier and Treasurer said that 198 of the 252 recommendations in the Nagle report have been substantially implemented. But what has been the result? The prison system is in tatters; prison officers are on strike and violence and bloodshed are the order of the day-a chaotic situation. The matter is urgent because the Minister has hidden behind the Nagle report. He has claimed that he is implementing the recommendations in that report. However, his implementation of the recommendations has obviously been a disaster; it has failed to resolve the problems in the State’s prisons’ – Mr. Mason; Legislative Assembly, 28 October 1980[11]

From these excerpts it would seem that the Government caved into the pressure of the public outcry resulting from the Nagle report’s release, and started to carry out the recommendations proposed in it. However, akin to a child memorizing given homework, the Government did not understand the basis of Justice Nagle’s recommendations, and merely sought to blindly comply with them in order to appease the general public. Many of the discussions brought up in subsequent parliamentary proceedings fell onto deaf ears and were never acted upon, which led to a period of inactivity by the Government, as G. Zdenkowski (a current NSW magistrate) articulated ‘it now seems clear that the NSW Government does not propose to take any action in relation to these matters [findings in the Nagle Report] and, as time flows by, prison officers have gained new confidence that this will be the situation.’[12]

For example, Recommendation 134 of the Nagle Report proposed that ‘prisoners should not be locked in their cells overnight for longer than 10 hours.[13] While it was implemented and maintained for years after the publication of the Nagle Report, the standard has since eroded to the point that some prisoners are locked up to 23 hours a day, as is the case of Malcolm Baker in 2012.[14] Furthermore, in November 2012, the abusive confidence of prison guards was in full view for the world to see when they ruthlessly assaulted a young man in prison cells. Initially, the officer claimed that it was the young man who assaulted the prison guards. If not for the recovery of CCTV video evidence, the young man may very well have been convicted of assault and be charged for a crime of which he was a victim of.[15]

Importance of the Nagle Report in the present

As with many commissions, the Nagle Royal Commission fell into a ‘cycle of public scandal, formal inquiry, the adoption of reform policies followed by a decay in the reform process’[16] in November 1999, a Legislative Council Select Committee was appointed with broad terms of reference embracing the increase in the prison population, the effectiveness of imprisonment, the wider social implications of the incarceration of both women and men, alternatives to incarceration and post-release assistance,[17] all matters which pertain to recommendations made in the Nagle Report made 21 years prior to the formation of said council. Such oversight begs the question of whether parliament itself reads the reports that they commissioned to be written.

As such, here we are in the present day, still facing the same prison brutalities and savageries, with the hype and attention over the Nagle Report long forgotten. Justice Action will not allow the cries of prisoners to go unheard. A major hindrance that faced the original Nagle Report was that it was never made accessible to the public, with few knowing of its existence and even fewer with access to it, UNTIL TODAY.

Below is the electronic copy of the ‘Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons’ scanned in full for your perusal. We hope that the importance and depth of the Nagle report will not be lost once again, allowing it to enlighten and convince you to join hands with us in our mission to truly bring justice in our system.





[5] Legislative Assembly – 19/8/1980

[6] Legislative Assembly – 22/8/1979

[7] Legislative Assembly – 11/9/1979

[8] Legislative Council – 16/9/1980

[9] Legislative Assembly – 14/10/1980

[10] Legislative Assembly – 28/10/1980

[11] Legislative Assembly – 28/10/1980

[12] G. Zdenkowski, Judicial intervention in prisons, Monash University Law Review 6(4) June 1980

[13] Nagle Report, 1978 pg471



[16] Desmond McDonnell ‘Committees and Commissions of inquiry into Criminal Justice Agencies: A History Repeating Itself’ (1999) –

[17] Ibid.

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