Prison Issues

Prison Issues

Prison Privatisation

Prison Privatisation



Media Release: New Grafton Prison Opening (Clarence Corrections Centre)
Media Release: Private Prison Serco takeover: Royal Commission call
Junee Prison Death
Grafton Private Prison
The Failure of Private Prisons in the US - August 2016
Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016

Privatisation refers to the transfer of ownership and management of prisons from the government to private sector actors. This means that the prison structure - which as a state institution, aims to protect the public good - is now being treated as a business venture. Businesses rely on growth in order to generate profit. It follows that an influx of prisoners will equate to an increase in profits. Justice Action unequivocally believes that higher rates of incarceration are not in the public interest. For this reason, 'solving' issues such as overcrowding and resource constraints through the privatisation of prisons is unsustainable, morally questionable and largely counterproductive. Privatisations of Prisons analysis

The US prison system illustrates the dangers of privatisation. The inflation of the US prison population has coincided with the increased privatisation of prison facilties. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 6% of state prisons and 16% of federal prisons are privately run. Currently, the US boasts the highest prison population rate in the world, at 716 per 100,000 people. Despite claims that violent crime has decreased, rates of incarceration have increased. This has resulted in the increased incarceration of minor offenders, including victims of political campaigns such as the War on Drugs. In this sense, reaching prison quotas is achieved through systemic corruption and a blatant rejection of the welfare of the accused individual.

Additionally, the media has exacerbated the growth of corporate power in the US prison system. The media plays a signicant role in shifting public perceptions of the value and function of prison, often employing the language of freedoms and liberties to justify the appauling treatment of those who have abused these rights. A number of prison corporations in the US have been accused of forming alliances with right-wing media channels that disseminate fear into the public sphere. Instilling fear into the community will invariably lead to more validation and support for the expansion of the prison system. A fundamental problem with the US privatised prison system is that it largely ignores prisoner welfare and lacks a genuine consideration for rehabilitation because it stands in direct conflict with the pursuit of corporate interests. In the privatised prison realm, potential reoffenders are viewed as security for the attainment of future profits.

It is clear that the system is in need of reform. However, it is important to evaluate all potential options prior to contracting out a vitally important public institution into the hands of private business.

More from Justice Action:
New Zealand Privatisation
NSW Privatisation 2009
Privatisation on an international level
NSW proposal for a private prison model
New Zealand's Mt Eden Correctional Facility reverts to publicInternational Research Proves Prison Privatisation is a Failure

Right Now is a volunteer not-for-profit organisation that focuses on highlighting human rights issues in Australia through accessible and engaging media, believing that a rights-respecting culture begins with the open flow of information. In 2012, they published a damning review of prison privatisation in Australia. Read the report here.

The Sentencing Project, a US not-for-profit organisation involved in research and advocacy for criminal justice issues, published a report in 2013 of the inherent failings of prison privatisation in the US, a model that has been followed by other countries overseas. Read the report here.

The Conversation published the results of a comparative analysis of prisons in Nordic countries, with a wholly public system, and those in English-speaking countries, where private prisons are common. Read the article here.

Inspector's Report


Overview of Inspector of Custodial Services Report

Bolivia Prison Wordpress

Full House: The Growth of the Inmate Population in NSW’

Parliamentary forum August 26,2015 & CJC/ICJ Analysis of Report

JA Analysis of CSNSW Response to Report

CSNSW Response to Inspector's Report

“Full House: The Growth of the inmate population in NSW” written by the Inspector of Custodial Services, J. R. Paget tabled in parliament 6th may 2015, brings to light the stark realities of prison overcrowding in NSW. Mr John Paget, former Assistant Commissioner for New South Wales warns of the consequences on inmates and staff of the mismanagement he documented. He said:                                                                                                           

“Where the state treats inmates in a way that denies them a modicum of dignity and humanity it should not be surprised if they respond accordingly, with individual acts of non-compliant behaviour escalating into collective disorder, such as riots” (Foreword)

This report outlines the negative implication the growth of the inmate population has had upon issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation and education services, as well as the health and wellbeing of prisoners.

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Grafton Prison


Latest News:
Serco Abusive Prisons, Not Grafton Next!
Grafton Community Interest Research
Plans Unveiled for Australia's Largest Prison
Grafton Man to Unfairly Lose Home 
Media Release: Opening of the new Grafton Prison is an outrage 
Computers in cells at new Grafton Prison


Grafton Prison currently houses 64 inmates. The NSW Government has announced developments will ensue in order to provide a maximum capacity of 1700 inmates by 2020. These developments will be the product of a partnership between the Government and a private enterprise (a Consortium consisting of Serco, Macquarie Capital, John Liang and John Holland).

Serco is an international service that works with government and public service providers in seven key sectors: Citizen Services, Defence, Facility Services, Health, Immigration, Justice and Transport. This company delivers services to the UK, Europe, North America, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia. In 2017, Serco (as part of the Northern Pathways Consortium) was awarded the contract for the operation of the New Grafton Correctional Centre.

Serco claims to deliver a responsible prisoner model that promotes respect, encourages positive behaviours and allows prisoners to learn and take responsibility for managing their own circumstances. They directly manage prison accommodation, prisoner mental health services, prisoner transport, and rehabilitation programs. They also aim to reduce recidivism to improve social outcomes and reduce the burden on law enforcement. 

Despite these claims, Serco’s track record for international prison management has been met with severe criticism. Serco’s deviation from its doctrine of prisoner autonomy and rehabilitation in these instances not only questions the reliability of Serco’s management of the New Grafton Correctional Centre, but also the broader consequences of prison privatisation.


Supermax's cruel and degrading conditions


On March 11, a select group of thirteen prisoners, all Muslim, were re-classified as ‘extreme high-risk restricted’, without any explanation provided as to why these changes suddenly occurred. The majority of these prisoners have been convicted of terrorism-related offences, except for two prisoners who are still awaiting trial on terrorism offences. The prisoners’ new classification was accompanied by a raft of unprecedented changes to conditions inside the prison, which have been described as ‘cruel and degrading’.

Justice Action has raised serious concerns regarding the introduction of strict new security regulations at Goulburn’s ‘Supermax’ Correctional Centre. The regulations clearly breach A10 of the ICCPR, which state all persons are to be "treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". Justice Action has written a letter to the Commissioner to urgently review these changes. 

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Prison violence is a major issue among prisoners and is one that requires urgent attention. Justice Action aims to campaign against prisoner violence, making prisons safer for inmates. Current projects we are working on include the deaths of inmates Craig Behr and Scott Simpson. Justice Action has applied to the coroners’ court to participate in the upcoming second inquest of Craig Behr.

Deaths in Custody


Latest News

Death of Wayne Fella Morrison in custody

Tane Chatfield Inquest

David Dungay Jr death in custody inquest
Rate of Indigenous Death in Custody Continues to Rise 



Deaths in Custody are an expression of the ultimate failure in the duty of care of police and corrective services, as they isolate prisoners from their support and prevent them from accessing health services. They may be committed at the hands of police, at the hands of prisoners or those in police custody themselves. Despite the clear mandate of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the investment of hundreds of millions of government dollars, the deaths continue uninterrupted. 

The AIC reports that between 2017-18, 72 deaths occurred in prison custody, 12 of which were death by suicidal hanging, and 21 in police custody, 15 of which were by gunshot wound. Furthermore, the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody continue to reflect the grossly disproportionate representation of indigenous peoples within the criminal justice system. 

In light of this, Justice Action intends to raise public awareness of the prevalence and causes of deaths in prison and police custody. The fulfillment of duty of care obligations by police is what Justice Action endeavours to ensure, in order to empower prisoners so they do not feel burdened to end their own lives.


According to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991), a death in custody can be defined by the following criteria:

(i) the death wherever occurring of a person who is in prison custody or police custody or detention as a juvenile; 

(ii) the death wherever occurring of a person whose death is caused or contributed by traumatic injuries sustained, or by lack of proper care whilst in such custody or detention; 

(iii) the death wherever occurring of a person who dies or is fatally injured in the process of police or prison officers attempting to detain that person; 

(iv) the death wherever occurring of a person who dies or is fatally injured in the process of that person escaping or attempting to escape from prison custody or police custody or juvenile detention, and

(v) Deaths that are supposed to have occurred in the presence of police officers, including deaths from self-inflicted injuries. These include deaths that occurred during a welfare check by police, or attempts by police to prevent someone from committing self-harm.


There are multiple factors that needs to be adressed when considering the global issue of deaths in custody and the failure of the goverment and the corrective service's duty to protect and care for prisoners:

1. International Stance of Deaths in Custody 

 2. Duty of Care 

3. Acess to Services 

 4. Safe Restraint


Our Aims 

Initiate and achieve the establishment of a national database through which coroners share their findings, and publish responses; minimising any chance for further deaths in custody. To achieve this Justice Action has been in contact with the offices of all state and territory coroners, the Australian Institute for Criminology, the National Coroners Information Services, State Governors, Coroner's Courts and other responsible government departments. 

Decrease mental health issues and drug use in prisons by allowing access to computers in all cells. This would help prisoners by connecting them to the outside world, giving them access to useful services such as counseling and allowing them the opportunity to gain an education.




Deaths in Custody Cases

Tane Chatfield 
Tane Chatfield, a 22 year old Gomeroi and Wakka Wakka man, was found unconscious in Tamworth Correctional Centre on the morning of 20th September 2017. He died 2 days later after being on life support at Tamworth Base Hospital. Corrective Services NSW conveyed that there were no suspicious circumstances regarding his death and that he attempted suicide via hanging in his cell.


(The Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney. ‘Justice for Tane’. Source: Richard Milnes/REX/Shutterstock)


Wayne Fella Morrison 

Wayne Fella Morrison, was a 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man who died in hospital on the 26th of September 2016. He was involved in an altercation three days prior to his death that he was pulled unconscious from the prisoner transportation van in a ‘prone position’ with a spit hood with no immediate resuscitation given. Experts believe that psychological and physical stress, physical restraint, and positional asphyxia relating to the spit mask used on Mr. Morrison contributed to his death. Additionally, the Aboriginal Legal Service was unable to contact and assist Mr. Morrison when he was in prison since there was only one Aboriginal Liaison officer.


David Dungay Jr 

David Dungay Jr, a 26 year old Dungatti man, was died on December 29, 2015 in Sydney's Long Bay Prison Hospital. In an attempted cell transfer, Dungay had refused to stop eating a packet of biscuits. As a result, six guards held him down in a prone position, administering a sedative while nursing staff and four other guards looked on. He called out twelve times that he couldn't breathe before losing consciousness. By the time the guards realised the seriousness of the situation, several minutes had gone past before basic life saving support was attempted. Still, only two compressions were undertaken. Dungay had gone into asystole arrest, otherwise known as irreversible cardiac arrest. 

(A painting of David Dungay Jr. Source: Carly Earl/The Guardian)


(The Dungay family outside the inquest. Source: Carly Earl/The Guardian)


Frank Townsend 

Frank Townsend, 71, was held in the Kevin Waller Unit of Long Bay Correctional Centre. John Walsh, who was the cellmate of Mr Townsend at the time of his death, has been charged with his murder. Mr Walsh, who is currently serving a life sentence for a triple murder, is alleged to have murdered Mr Townsend in their shared cell in January 2017. According to a prisoner in Long Bay Correctional Complex, the circumstances in which this alleged murder occurred could have been avoided if Mr Walsh had been kept in a single cell, and not been forced to reside with a cellmate.


Tracy Brannigan 

Tracy Brannigan’s avoidable death in custody marks the loss of a loved one and must force change in the prison system. She was owed a duty of care but rather than accepting responsibility, they isolated her in a cell away from her family and support. Their callous indifference caused her death.Tracy Brannigan'scase and Inquest raised issues that haven't yet been addressed, despite the wide distribution of the Tracy Brannigan Action Plan.


Miriam Merten 

Miriam Merten was a mother of two and a mental health patient from Lismore Base Hospital. Miriam died on 3rd June 2014 from injuries sustained during her time in seclusion. The horrific nature of Miriam’s treatment was evidenced with shocking CCTV footage of her final hours, exposing the lack of care from the NSW Health Staff at Lismore Base Hospital along with their abject failure to intervene in her untimely death.

(Mariam Merten. Source: NorthernStar )

NSW Privatisation 2009

2009 Legislative Proposal for Privatisation
Following the proposed privatisation of Parklea Correctional Centre, a parliamentary inquiry called for a three month pause in negotiations. Justice Action presented a media release arguing the privatisation of Parlea is morally wrong (view here). Notably, the Legislative Council held an inquiry that received 453 submissions with all but eleven in opposition to privatation, including the multinationals and Corrections. This was followed up with a 'black ban call' on the five private multinational corporations tendering for the prison (view here). 

Community Support
The community says NO!  There was a one hundred day picket line on Premier Rees' electoral office, leafletting of shopping centres in fourteen electorates on Super Saturday May 30, rallies and a Statewide Day of Action. The government started to empty Cessnock Jail in preparation. Shuffling at Parklea and Long Bay are currently in occurance. Strikes and lockdowns are happening in response.

Justice Action has consulted with the prisons and now joins the PSA and Unions NSW to oppose the privatisations. 

Unions NSW passed a resolution at their meeting November 20: "Unions NSW congratulate Justice Action for supporting the Prison Officer’s strike against the NSW Government’s proposals to privatise Parklea and Cessnock Prisons."

Sylvia Hale, Greens spokeperson on Corrective Services, denounces GEO Parklea prison contract (view here).

Further Reading

Notice for public hearing on privatisation of prisons

Transcript of proceedings before the inquiry
Relevant sections
   >Presentation of evidence by JA on behalf of NSW prisoners: p40-51
   >Presentation of evidence by NSW Department of Corrective Services Commissioner: p2-24
   >Presentation of evidence by prison officer's union: p25-39

JA submission to parliamentary inquiry

Attachment to submission: 'Community not Corporation'

Stateline ABCTC transcripts, 20/7/09 and 27/2/09

Greens' Minister Sylvia Hale's Urgency Motion for Amendment Bill to prevent privatisation

Midnight eviction of Cessnock prisoners: Media Release 16/3/09

NSW Exposed In Australian Government Report


Latest News:
Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2017

Released on the 31st of January 2017, the Report on Government Services demonstrates the failure of the NSW corrections system. Firstly, NSW has the most time in cells of all Australian jurisdictions, where prisoners spend 17.5 hours inside their cell per day for secure facilities where most prisoners are held (Table 8A.12 on p.475). Remand prisoners are held for 18.5 hours a day in cells according to the Full House Report by the Inspector General s4.56. It has got worse each year as you can see from that Commonwealth Report on Government Services.

Furthermore, NSW has the worse recidivism of all states and is getting worse. Defined as returning to prison under sentence within two years, last years recidivism rate stood at 50.7%, up from 48.1% the year before and 45.8 in 2014 (See Table C.5 on p.23). This is a total failure compared to the State Plan. NSW State priority in the State Plan:

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Online Legal Services



Victory: Computers for Legal Access in Liristis v State of New South Wales
27/04/2017 Media 
Release: Computer Restrictions Justify Bail  

Everyone is entitled to justice, and to fair treatment before the law. This especially includes people in prison who are totally dependent on state control and the most vulnerable, subject to the harshest punishment available. However prisoners are often unable to exercise those legal rights, isolated from support, in cells without resources, but with time and incentive to defend themselves.

People in prisons must have the ability to access resources that assist preparing their defence, and exercising their right to a fair trial. This is why it is essential for people in prisons to have access to computers, as a tool to access evidence, a source of legal knowledge and the ability to present information to help themselves. That right is supported by many cases. The courts can adjourn and release to bail.

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