Townsend Cell Killing

Justice Action recently received correspondence from a prisoner at Long Bay Correctional Complex regarding the death of a prisoner in custody. The case is an example of the need for single cells in all prisons for all prisoners, so that people can retain some privacy and safety in prison.

The case in question involved the alleged murder of 71-year-old Frank Townsend in the Kevin Waller Unit of the prison. 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 had Mr Walsh been kept in a single cell, and not been forced to reside with a cellmate.

According to the correspondence received by Justice Action, a psychologist at Lithgow Correctional Centre had assessed Mr Walsh, before he was moved to Long Bay, as being a “serious threat” to any cellmate he may be placed with. This information was included in his file, so that in the event of his being moved to a different prison, he would be kept in a single cell. It is also apparent from this source that Mr Walsh had, prior to the alleged murder, been internally charged with attacking inmates. Our source also states that Mr Walsh told staff at Long Bay Correctional Complex that, were he to be placed with a cellmate and not in a single cell, he would “kill him or be killed by him.”

Justice Action’s source further goes on to indicate that another former cellmate of Mr Walsh had been removed from their shared cell two days prior to the alleged murder due to “John’s erratic and aggressive behaviour for fear that John would attack/kill him.” Despite these issues, and Mr Walsh’s apparent admission that he would kill any cellmate placed in his cell with him, he was continually made to share a cell with other prisoners. In allowing other prisoners to be placed in a cell with Mr Walsh, Long Bay Correctional Complex was placing these prisoners at risk and placing no importance on their safety.  

While Mr Walsh has been charged with the murder of Mr Townsend, there has been no discussion of the responsibility of the Department of Corrections and the prison in regard to their duty of care in this case. By not allowing prisoners the option to have their own cells, they are depriving them of their privacy and their safety. According to a Community Justice Coalition report on cell sizes, every prisoner should be entitled to their own personal space to ensure that their right to privacy is actualised.[1] Further, the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia 2012 states that accommodation should “respond effectively to the actual needs and risk status of the prisoner.”[2] It is evident in this case that the accommodation provided by Long Bay Correctional Complex did not correspond to Mr Walsh’s risk status or Mr Townsend’s safety needs. The Department of Directions appeared not to care despite the fact that it was warned.

[1] Community Justice Coalition, ‘Standardisation of Cell Sizes’ (2016), 3.

[2] Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia 2012 s 2.4.

Leave a Comment