Section 2: Major Themes by Decade


Shifts in penal culture

The early part of the 1970s represented a significant watershed for NSW prisons, where unrest amongst prisoners due to inhumane conditions and institutional violence caused havoc within the NSW prison system.  Growing unrest at prisons in NSW, particularly Bathurst, such as escapes, riots and strikes, clearly highlighted the growing discontent among prisoners with a brutal and outdated regime. (Ramsland 1996:315) The prison estate consisted almost totally of buildings from the turn of the century; very little money had been spent on physical improvements in the post war period. Bathurst was in particularly poor condition, with overflowing sewerage and inadequate services. The regime at Bathurst was also inhumane and outdated even in comparison with other prisons. (Findlay 1982: 22)

In 1974 prisoners set fire to Bathurst Gaol, which resulted in excess of $10 million worth of damage and almost totally destroyed the institution, which was not reopened until 1982 (Ramsland 1996:320). In an attempt to restore control to the gaol, prison officers fired on prisoners with guns and pistols in a ‘sporadic', ‘undisciplined' and ‘disorganised way' which left 11 prisoners with gunshot wounds, and one a paraplegic (Ramsland 1996:319).

The opening of Katingal Prison in 1975 marked a move to modernisation in the form of security based institutions which isolated problematic inmates from the rest of the system. While not a new development, (the “intractable” wing at Grafton served the same purpose) it reflected the fear of prison “agitators”. As Zdenkowksi and Brown point out “the politicization of prisoners cannot be underestimated as a key factor in generating a shift in official tactics. External supporters played significant roles in plugging the information gap” (Zdenkowski and Brown (1982:166)

Following the bashings which had occurred at Bathurst in 1970, a group of Sydney lawyers, ex-prisoners and others formed the Prison Reform Council and worked towards bringing about a Royal Commission (Hawkins & Ellard 1988:27). After six years and continuing evidence of brutality, finally the government relented. On the eve of the state election in 1976, Liberal Premier Sir Eric Willis announced that there would be a royal commission into the NSW prison system.  The change of government in 1976 delayed the commencement of the Commission and reduced its members from three to one. On 31 March 1978 Justice Nagle delivered the long, comprehensive final report, which criticised the Department of Corrective Services for its failure to acknowledge and inquire into allegations of brutality experienced within the NSW prison system (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:180; Ramsland 1996:322). The recommendations offered by Justice Nagle affected almost every aspect of the operations relating to the NSW Department of Corrective Services (Hawkins and Ellard 1988:36), and led to widespread changes and reform throughout the system.

With the Nagle Report in hand, the new Wran Labour Government with Tony Vinson as Commissioner of Corrective Services introduced important reforms in the area of prisoner rights. Amendments to prison regulations relating to visits, mail, voting rights, classification and other matters led to an increasing, if short lived, acceptance of the idea of ‘prisoner rights'  Prison Officers retaliated by striking repeatedly.  The crisis situation engendered by repeated strikes, which cause extreme conditions such as extended lock-ins for prisoners, plus the unfortunate confluence of an unsupportive minister and the Labour Government's opportunistic attitude to political popularity, led to Tony Vinson's resignation in 1981.

Rates of incarceration

During the period prior to the completion of Katingal, prison numbers had increased drastically. Between 1969-1975 there was a 32.4% increase in the NSW prison population and a 55% increase in the number of people serving community supervision (Blake 1988:18; Ramsland 1996:315). In 1970, 38.8 % of total receptions were prisoners on remand (Annual Report 1970). In the period 1972 -3 however, there was a “dramatic decline of 27.6%” (NSW Department of Corrective Services Annual Report 1974/75) in the numbers of prisoners which levelled off in the later part of the decade.
The first prison population study was conducted during 1973. (NSW Department of Corrective Services Annual Report 1973)

Major legislative changes

a) Bail

The Bail Act 1978 created a presumption in favour of bail (except in some serious matters such as armed robbery) and established a three tier system - offences where there is an entitlement to bail; offences where there is a presumption in favour; and offences where there is no presumption either way. The Second Reading Speech by the then Attorney General Frank Walker demonstrates the philosophy behind the new act “one must not forget that we are dealing with unconvicted persons and the liberty of the subject is one of the most fundamental and treasured concepts in our society.” ( Walker  1978 in Simpson 1998:8)

b) Sentencing

The Periodic Detention of Prisoners Act 1970 was enacted to provide for a system of sentences which could be served partly in prison but allow the prisoner to maintain employment outside the prison. However, the major purpose of the act was seen by the Department as “(keeping) first offenders and remediable prisoners out of contact with hardened criminals” (Department of Corrective Services Annual Report 1970), reflecting the traditional distinction between “remediable” and “habitual” offenders.

The Offences in Public Places Act (1979) replaced the Summary Offences Act and attempted a less punitive approach to “victimless crime” such as vagrancy (Grant: 80). However, as Hogg and Brown point out “The Wran Government was forced to back - peddle on these reforms” following a “concerted and misleading campaign” by police who opposed the changes.(Hogg and Brown 1998: 37) The Intoxicated Persons Act  introduced a more liberal approach to  public drunkenness.

d) Parole

The Nagle Royal Commission's terms of reference did not specifically include “parole” so no submissions were made by the Parole Board (Ellard 1988:235). However, Justice Nagle saw parole as an alternative to imprisonment and recommended instituting a presumption in favour of parole (Chan 1990:406). Sentencing law allowed judges to set short “head sentences” with long parole periods (Ellard: 234), while the Board in practice was “disposed to grant parole rather than refuse it” (p. 235). Justice Nagle recommended that prisoners should have a right of appearance at such reviews and should be given reasons for refusal of parole (p. 236). Nagle also recommended that judges be given the power to set non parole periods for life sentences and that the Life Sentences and Governors Pleasure review committee should be disbanded and their functions taken up by the Parole Board  (Chan: 404) The Muir Committee (see below) recommended sweeping changes in parole, and it has been argued that delays in implementation led to the introduction of the Release on Licence programme as a strategy for reducing prisoner numbers, and that, in turn the failure of that programme led to the eventual enactment of the Probation and Parole Act. (Chan: 405)

Major  events and cases

The murder of Don McKay, a country businessman who had became involved  in law and order politics amid allegations about the domination of Calabrian and Sicilian crime figures from the Griffith area in the cultivation and selling of large amounts of marijuana, eventually contributed to the establishment of the Woodward Royal Commission in 1979.

A bomb exploding outside the Hilton Hotel in 1978 caused great deal of public alarm, as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was taking place at the hotel at the time. Tim Anderson, who had already served six years on an unrelated charge of conspiracy to murder which was overturned, was later ( in 1996) exonerated on appeal, as his conviction was based on the evidence of prison activist turned informer Ray Denning. Anderson became an influential prison reformer.

Major policy changes

a) Recruitment and training of prison staff

Rinaldi (1977) reported that “the prison service is self contained in that no one is introduced from the “outside” except for specialist trade instructors”. (Rinaldi: 196). Throughout the 70s, staff shortages were a problem (Rinaldi 1977:197) which led to a substantial drop in standards. Lack of definition relating to the role of the prison officer was also seen as a problem throughout this period.

The Annual Report of 1976/19977 reflects a concern with “an increasing proportion of serious offenders ... not easily placed on programmes ... demanding rising expectations of privileges” Correspondingly, prison officers had “low morale “and there were “demands for increased security”. There was increasing negative publicity on escapes in spite of the absence of increase in numbers, and an increase in industrial disputes and a shortage of facilities.

b) Professionalisation/bureaucratisation of prisons

In 1969, the Department of Prisons was renamed the Department of Corrective Services, reflecting a belief in ability of prison to reform. (Cullen, Dowding and Griffin 1988:16)

The Prisons (Amendment) Act 1970 changed the title of the head of the prison service from Comptroller General to Commissioner.

The Corrective Services Advisory Council was established by the Minister for Justice in September 1971 to “ review policies and programmes and practices so as to ensure that they are the most effective for the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders. “
(DCS Annual Report 1971/72:38)

 As part of the post- Nagle reforms in the Prisons (Amendment) Act 1978, the Corrective Services Commission and the Corrective Services Advisory Council were constituted.

An Interdepartmental Committee was set up in 1979 to establish a Community Service Order Programme. (DCS Annual Report 1978/79)

c) Educational/work/health programs in prison

The Parramatta Linen Service, opened in 1976, was a massive industrial laundry built on the site of a vegetable garden used by prisoners since the last century. Although originally designed for Parramatta prisoners, a mixture of “out-residents” and prisoners brought in from Emu Plains (who previously worked in the market gardens at Emu Plains) worked in the laundry (Rinaldi 1977:162).

Work release was first introduced in February 1970 with the opening of Silverwater House and expanded through the early years of the decade. (DCS Annual Report 71/72)

In a prescient move, given the ageing of the prison population, Irwin House, a psycho geriatric unit, was opened in 1970.

Following the introduction of the Periodic detention of Prisoners Act Periodic Detention Centres opened at various locations for men and Mirinda PDC for women opened in 1978 on the site of the old Female Factory at Parramatta ( DCS Annual Report 77/78)

Work Release was expanded throughout the early part of the decade (Annual Report 1971/72,

d) Probation and parole

Probation first appeared in NSW in 1954, although a system of parole had been operational in the NSW prison system since 1951 (Hayes 1988:109) under the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1950. (Chan: 1991:404.) In 1966, a new system of parole was established and the role of the Parole Board was redefined. (Chan: 404)  

The Probation and Parole services were gradually merged between 1968 and 1972. In 1977, NSW was the only state where a prisoner released on parole was supervised. (Rinaldi 1977:148) Between 1975-1976, a total of 9,370 people were under the supervision of 240 probation and parole officers.). The Department of Corrective Services Annual Report of 1975/6 reports that the demand for the services of the Probation and Parole Service had become so great that a restriction on reports had been instituted; an unpopular move with the courts who had come to substantially rely on pre-sentence reports from the Service. (DCS Annual Report 1975/6: 64)

e) Key leaders/figures driving change

This decade saw an unprecedented alliance between prisoners and those advocating reform from the outside, including the Council for Civil Liberties, the Penal Reform Council, and various lawyers and academics who worked to publicise the many allegations of brutality at Grafton and Bathurst in particular, which were later confirmed by Nagle.

Frank Walker, Attorney General May 1976 - Feb 83, Minister for Justice 1976-83

A number of innovative and progressive legislative developments occurred during his period as Attorney General and Minister for Justice including the Bail Act 1978, the Offences in Public Places Act 1979 and the Anti Discrimination Act. Much of the reform of prisons which occurred in the post Nagle period occurred during his tenure.

Tony Vinson

In February 1979 Professor Tony Vinson was appointed as Chairman of Corrective Services and was responsible for instituting the bulk of Nagle's blueprint for reform (Ramsland 1996). Vinson encountered so much resistance over the 30 month period that he later resigned in mid-October 1981, and later documented the many problems he experienced in his book Wilful Obstruction: The Frustrations of Prison Reform in 1982. Vinson's administration was significant, nonetheless, implementing or approving a total of 155 of the 252 recommendations just months after appointment (Grant 1992: Brown 2002.) Many of the changes instituted by Vinson were continued by succeeding administrations, and there is no doubt that physical conditions improved and access to services such as welfare was normalized under Vinson's administration (Hawkins & Ellard 1988:41).

Major inquiries

i) The Nagle Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons (1978)

While initiated by the Liberal Government after strong political pressure, Nagle is strongly associated with the somewhat truncated process of reform which followed it under the Wran Labour Government. It represented a shift in public focus away from punitive attitudes, if only for a short period of time. Referring to the ‘intractable' section of Grafton gaol, Nagle acknowledged the brutal and savage ‘reception biff' endured by prisoners and argued that such acts were not isolated but an “institutionalised regime of horror” accepted by prison officers and the Department. Nagle concluded that that prison should be used as a last resort; that loss of liberty is the essential punishment and that the prisoner should retain all other rights except those necessary to maintain security and good order; that imprisonment must be regarded as punishment rather than a means of ‘rehabilitating' prisoners'; that prison officers must possess the necessary training and means to contain prison disturbances effectively; and that prisoners must be given the means of conveying their grievances to authorities. (Vinson 2004). It led to some reforms in physical conditions and management, but many were disappointed at the narrow focus of the inquiry which did not canvas the broader issues of the causes and proper responses to crime which were specifically within its terms of reference (Zdenkowsi & Brown 1982).  Nagle also recommended the closure of Katingal, which occurred in 1978.

The inquiry had initially been delayed until all of the criminal charges brought against prisoners in the riot of 1974 had been dealt with, which was in stark contrast to the absence of criminal charges against any of the perpetrators of the institutional violence which had been part of the regime at Grafton for many years, particularly as many officers implicated in this regime survived to prosper in the Department.

The reform momentum following Nagle slowed in the early 1980s due to a number of factors, including the industrial action by Prison Officers Union and their resistance to the closure of Katingal; the resignation of Corrective Services Chairman Tony Vinson who had largely been responsible for implementing the bulk of the Nagle Report; a hardening of both public and media responses to prisoners and prisons; and a change in government commitment to penal reform ideals (Brown 2004:135).

ii) Henry Report

The Henry Report was an inquiry into allegations made by a number of prisoners at the Goulburn Training Centre. The inquiry was conducted by R.W. Henry, and charges were laid under the Public Service Act against 5 prison officers including Deputy Superintendent Penning at Goulburn Training Centre (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:197). In the immediate aftermath of the Nagle Royal Commission, the Henry Report seemed to demonstrate that Goulburn had taken the place of Grafton and Katingal in dealing out brutal treatment to people posing management difficulties (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:198).

iii) Muir Committee Report - parole (1978)

The Muir Committee which was established in 1978 to review the Parole of Prisoners Act 1966 consisted of representatives from the Magistracy, Department of the Attorney General and of Justice, Department of Corrective Services, the NSW Parole Board and other bodies. The Committee was under severe time constraints to report quickly. Although there was significant debate surrounding the tabling of Muir's proposals, the decision to repeal the Parole of Prisoners Act and prepare a new Probation and Parole Act was not made until 1981 and the legislation did not commence until 1983. (Chan 1991:404) As Chan points out (1991: 409) while some of the proposals constituted a liberalisation of parole, others, such as automatic revocation and non - eligibility following serious breach “carried the risk of seriously increasing the prison population.”(Chan: 411)

iv) NSW Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking, (Woodward Royal Commission (1979)

The Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking (otherwise known as the Woodward Royal Commission) was set up following allegations that criminal organisations was involved in the production and supply of drugs. The pressure for a Royal Commission escalated following the disappearance and murder of anti-drugs campaigner Don McKay in Griffith. Commissioned in 1977, the Royal Commission addressed legal issues rather than social or medical aspects of the drug trafficking issue. Its 89 recommendations submitted to the Governor on 31 October 1979 focused on “general areas of statutory, legal administration and law enforcement reform, identification of drug users, promotion of programs to discourage drug use, information sharing amongst agencies, cooperation amongst Australian jurisdictions, and improvement in the treatment of those suffering from a drug addiction.” (NSW State Records Authority 2009)

Vulnerable populations

 In 1971-2 Aboriginal people incurred 16 times more convictions that would be expected on a per capita basis, and areas with high Aboriginal populations were 6-7 times more likely to be imprisoned for the same offence (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:21). The Department of Corrective Services did not keep statistics on the numbers of indigenous people in prison until the late 1980's.

NSW was the only state where the rate of imprisonment of women was not decreasing during the seventies (Rinaldi 1977:181). The Nagle Royal Commission estimated that the daily prison population included 102 women, more than twice the numbers in any other state, where “half the women in NSW were in for more than 2 years” (Rinaldi 1977:182). The “new” women's prison at Silverwater, opened in 1969/70, and named Mulawa, meaning “place of shadows” offered according to the Annual Report of 1970 “tastefully appointed rooms. Programmes offered included

‘Risk' related developments

Risk and dangerousness were a regular topic in the popular press of the seventies, particularly in relation to well known prisoners like Ray Denning who were labelled as “violent, desperate, dangerous” ( Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:310) The reporting of escapes also stirred the popular press to excesses of purple prose. While most escapes have always been low security inmates near the end of their sentence, prison authorities and politicians increasingly realised the bad political mileage to be had from such events.

Official discourse showed a cautious attitude to risk assessment, the Muir Commission, acknowledged the difficulties inherent in predicting dangerousness when they refused to consider automatic parole for low risk offenders.( Chan: 1991 409)

Diversionary programs

Alternative sentencing options such as periodic detention and probation were being developed in the 70s with much optimism about their potential to divert people from the prison system. Periodic centres were first introduced at Long Bay (1970) followed by Parramatta (1973), Silverwater and Bathurst (1974) and then Emu Plains and Tomago (1976). Periodic detention was not available for women until 1977.

A greater professionalisation in the social welfare sector generally led to the development of Probation and Parole Officers as important sources of legitimisation of these strategies of containment. The development of the discourses of psychology and psychiatry also were important, particularly in the latter part of the decade. The Probation Service had been established since 1951 in the Department of the Attorney General and Justice (although other forms of early release had been in existence since the colonial era). It was merged in 1968 with the Adult Parole Service (Chan 1982:31) As Chan points out, the practice in prisons was far ahead of official discourses, and an individualized, rehabilitative approach had been evident since the 1940's. (Chan 1982: 32)

The Drug and Alcohol Court Assessment Programme (DACAP) commenced in 1979 within the Probation and Parole Service, to provide assessment and referral to detoxification services to people with drug problems appearing mainly in inner city Magistrates' Courts. Originally intended as a pilot programme, and implemented in a limited fashion.( Swain 1999:11), nonetheless it demonstrated an early recognition of the need for specialised services for the increasing numbers of drug affected people appearing before the courts

Prisoner/other resistance

a) Prison Riots

Through the 1970s the prison became a visible site of political struggle and at various stages throughout the decade, prisoners gained a voice outside the prison. Brown and Wilkie (2002: xx) argue that the increased visibility of the prison system as an institution in this period is owed mostly to the prison disturbances and prisoner militancy which occurred throughout the period. Prisoner resistance through riots and sit-ins forced attention on this neglected sector, particularly at the inhumane regimes and outdated facilities of the NSW prison system.

The decade began with major disturbances at Bathurst gaol in 1970 and 1974, which substantially contributed to the commissioning of the Nagle Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons (1978). The first riot at Bathurst (1970) was a result of prisoner complaints about food, the exposure to the extremity of the weather, cisterns overflowing and absurd adherence to rules which were relaxed in other prisons (Grant 1992:151).  Other disturbances at Goulburn and Long Bay in the same month were peaceful but indicated a rising tide of discontent. The disturbances at Bathurst in 1974 saw the complete destruction of the prison by fire, with in excess $10 million worth of damage (1974 Annual Report.)  Prisoners were responded to in the riot with open fire by guards and police in an undisciplined and brutal way. As a result, 11 prisoners were wounded by gunfire, with one prisoner suffering from a gunshot to the spine, later becoming a paraplegic (Ramsland 1996).

Prison disturbances also occurred between 1974 and 1976 at Maitland, Parramatta and Goulburn Gaols (Brown and Wilkie 2002). In 1975, $100,000 of damage was caused by a disturbance at Parramatta ( DCS Annual Report 75/76)

b) Industrial action

The Prison Officer's Union was described by Tony Vinson as having “never accepted the legitimacy of the Royal Commission or the assessment of prisoners' rights on which it was based” (Vinson 1982:55). While attempting to use the Nagle Report “as a shield” to advance with much needed prison reform, Vinson was frequently faced with “the constant threat of wildcat strikes and peremptory industrial action” throughout his time in office (p.209), and prisoners frequently reported that they were being used as “hostages” by prison officers to achieve change. In fact, strikes had become a tactic used by the prison officers to halt the reform process. In 1979, 46 “illegal stoppages “were reported to the Industrial Commission of NSW. ( Annual Report 1979/80) :25) The Prison Officers Union forced the reopening of Katingal for several months in 1979. (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:90).


Shifts in penal culture

The previous decade heralded a greater awareness in the community about prison issues and some significant advances in conditions for prisoners. However, during the next decade, shifts in political, popular and penal culture saw the emergence of attitudes reflecting penal populism amongst politicians and large sections of the media and public. (Brown & Wilkie 2002: xx). The political climate of the early 1980's reflected an increasing focus on law and order issues, particularly with the growing issue of illicit drugs both in the community and within the prison system. The Wran/Unsworth Government, while implementing some of the Nagle recommendations, increased spending on corrections (Grant 1992:102), endorsed a $10m capital works programme, and provided increased funding to police. The constant turmoil and crisis in the NSW prison system throughout the 70s and early 80s, led to the desire by Wran for stable administration throughout the mid 80s, which led to a period of relative calmness and peace within the system and allowed some progress with reform to be made. (Grant 1992:3)

Increasing political sensitivity about prisons in the light of sensationalised media reporting and the public relations disaster which befell prison reform in the Vinson era meant that the NSW Labour Government was increasingly reacting to concerns expressed in the popular press that the criminal justice system was too lenient.  Unluckily for them, the Labour government had prepared an overhaul of the fine default system just prior to wide publicity given to the serious assault on a fine defaulter, Jamie Partlic, in the Central Industrial Prison at Long Bay, leaving its implementation to the incoming Liberal Government.

In 1988 the Greiner Liberal Government was elected on a “law and order” platform, and the new Minister for Corrective Services wasted no time in implementing far reaching policy and legislative changes. The Corrective Services Commission was abolished almost immediately, which saw it replaced by the office of Director-General of Corrective Services (Ramsland 1996:326).

Rates of incarceration

Early in the decade, there was “substantial reduction in male prisoners and female sentenced prisoners.” (DCS Annual Report 1982/83) Later in the decade, this trend was to dramatically reverse. The cessation of the Early Release on License Scheme was followed by an increase in the prison population to 3730 in February 1984 (Grant 1992:15). Prison overcrowding reached previous unimagined levels - having slowly risen to 4015 (held in 3942 cells) by the March 1988 election (Grant 1992:3).

Major legislative changes

a) Bail

Bail (Amendment) Act 1986 -removed the presumption in favour of bail for certain drug offences

Bail (Amendment) Act 1987 - restricted the granting of bail pending appeal.

Bail (Personal and Family Violence) Amendment Act 1987- removed the presumption in favour of bail if the accused person had previously failed to comply with bail conditions imposed to protect the victim.

Bail (Amendment) Act 1988 - introduced for the first time a presumption against bail for certain offences and introduces a requirement to consider victims

Bail (Amendment Act 1989 - placed restrictions on applications for bail to the Supreme Court.

b) Sentencing

The Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 increased penalties for trafficking and distinguished between amounts of drugs for the purposes of sentencing.

Sentencing was dramatically changed by the new Sentencing Act 1989, introduced, unusually, by the Minister for Corrective Services and not the Attorney General (Brown 1992:332), which was symbolic of the Greiner Government's new law and order philosophy (Grant 1992:108). In this new legislation,  remissions and the presumption in favour of parole were abolished; minimum terms were set at ¾ of total sentence; maximum penalties were increased for some offences; and the enactment of the Summary Offences Act 1988 saw imprisonment restored for certain summary offences.

Although periodic detention had been made available in NSW since 1971, amendments to the Periodic Detention of Prisoners Act refined the screening process of suitable offenders for the program. Amendments to this legislation required that the court must be satisfied that the offender was suitable to serve the term of the imprisonment in the form of periodic detention on the basis of a report about that offender from the Department of Corrective Services.

c) Parole

 Probation and Parole Act 1983

Provisions contained in the Probation and Parole Act, (which substantially implemented recommendations made in the Muir Committee Report of 1979)led to the immediate release of prisoners who had been sentenced for less than three years; a presumption in favour of parole existed in relation to those serving longer sentences; and remissions  were now deducted from all minimum terms. Under the Act, the Probation and Parole Service was expanded with extra staff appointed to cope with the increased amount of people on probation and parole (NSW Department State Records 2009).

The Prisons (Further Amendment) Act 1986 provided that remissions now had to be earned by the prisoner.

The Probation and Parole (Serious Offenders) Act 1987 required the fixing of a non parole period of not less than ¾ of the sentence and removed the presumption in favour of parole for sentences of more than 6 years (Grant 1992:100)

Major Events and Cases

In 1986 Rex Jackson was convicted of corrupt conduct relating to the Release on Licence Scheme, causing a considerable political and penological crisis for NSW, which not only affected the public standing of the government,but also destroyed the benefits of the program and similar programmes long into the future. (Grant 1992:3)

Another crisis for the government occurred on 7 November 1987 when prisoner Jamie Partlic was bashed by another prisoner in the Central Industrial Prison at Long Bay. Jamie Partlic had been serving a sentence as a parking fine defaulter and was bashed so brutally he sustained brain damage and remained in a coma for almost six months. The incident led to widespread changes in the way fines were dealt with, including the establishment of the State Debt Recovery Office and the abolition of imprisonment for fine default.

Evidence that police were involved with major crime including drug dealing and armed robbery emerged after Detective Roger Rogerson shot dead heroin dealer Warren Lanfranchi in 1981. His girlfriend, Sally Ann Huckstepp, after making extensive allegations about police corruption, was found murdered in 1986. Neddy Smith, part of the Sydney underworld was acquitted of her murder in 1999.

The brutal gang rape and murder of Anita Cobby in 1986 and of Janine Balding in 1988 received widespread publicity and support for victims of crime. In both cases, those convicted were subject to non -release recommendations by the judge and their files marked “never to be released” by the judge. This practice had no basis in legislation at the time and was unevenly applied to high profile cases. In the Balding case, several of those convicted were juveniles at the time.

Major policy changes

a) Recruitment and training of prison staff

In 1989 the NSW Corrective Services Academy opened at Brush Farm, Eastwood. The aim of the academy was to provide pre-service training facilities for custodial officers, community correctional officers, industries officers and other groups. The Academy was also set up to provide departmental managers with in-service education and training, with the aim of strengthening the professional competence of staff working on all levels of the Department (Ramsland 1996:327).
The Bauer Inquiry into conditions and remuneration of prison officers concluded in 1987 and a new industrial award was developed. (Grant :103)

b) Professionalisation/bureaucratisation of prisons

A prominent theme of the eighties was the increasing impact of managerial thinking within the Department of Corrective Services NSW. In 1983/4 the term “management” entered the Corrective services lexicon in relation to prisoners and has remained “the staple of the various mission statements, objective and purposes” ever since (Sotiri 2003:264).  Angus Graham, Director-General of Corrective Services from 1 April 1989 placed great emphasis on developing the corporate identity of Corrective Services and aimed at improving the morale of officers within the Department. ((Ramsland 1996:326). A Strategic Plan was developed during his tenure ( Ramsland :326)

The military flavour of the prison service was heightened by the introduction of commissions in 1985 for all officers reaching executive officer rank (Department of Corrective Services 1990). At this time, the Department was headed by two former police officers.

c) Education/work/health programs in prison

Bathurst Gaol, reopened in 1982 after extensive rebuilding following near destruction of the prison in the disturbances of 1974, was to have represented a change in management strategy and philosophy based on unit management. However, various factors including understaffing, failure to properly equip the gaol for work and limited support from senior management meant that the gains made were limited ( DCS Research Publication No 12, 1987 p 12) and, to a large extent, unit management was never properly implemented here.

A Sex Offenders programme was commenced at Cooma in 1986.

On 4 April 1986 a pilot methadone programme was commenced at Mulawa, Norma Parker Centre, Parramatta and Bathurst.

In March 1987, education for prison officers regarding HIV and AIDs was commenced. (Adamson1990). From February 1988 Hepatitis B vaccinations were made available to all prison officers within the NSW prison system.

In the latter part of the decade, under Michael Yabsley the prioritisation of “work” as an ideological strategy for penal administration was mirrored in the importance given to prison industries over rehabilitative and educational programmes. (DCS Annual Report

d) Probation and Parole

See Probation and Parole Act 1983

e) Key leaders/figures driving change

In the internal management of the prison system, the early eighties were the province of those left to operationalise the limited reforms of the past two years. David Grant, who was to head the department for a short period prior to the election of the Liberal Government, sees the era as the beginning of the ‘slow, unravelling and substantial dismantling of the reforms (Grant 1992). However, the Annual Reports of the early 80's indicate a robust research programme including programme evaluations and evidence of some optimism regarding prisoner numbers. The Annual Report of 1985 commences with a section headed “Alternatives to Imprisonment” symbolising a move towards decarceration and expansion of penalty options which could provide the court other options than imprisonment.

Premier Nicholas Greiner 1988 - 1992 (Liberal Party)

Greiner was elected Premier on 19 March 1988, bringing a very clear platform on law and order (Grant 1992:105) and accusing the previous government of deliberately diminishing control over lawbreakers. (Grant :105) He introduced his blueprint document ‘Liberals - A change for the better - the first four years of Government' - which outlined the new range of law and order policies which were to be implemented (Grant:.105). His policies asserted the importance of protecting the community by apprehending more offenders and keeping them incapacitated for longer periods.  Such a strategy was primarily based on ancient approaches to penal policy whereby prisoners must forego the rights and obligations of citizenship once imprisoned ( Grant:106)  

Michael Yabsley, Minister for Corrective Services (1988-1991)

Michael Yabsley, the Minister for Corrective Services under the Greiner Government was a prominent figure in the late 80s. Explicitly rejecting the idea of prisoner rights, his radical policy and legislative stance wound back many of the reforms of the Vinson /post Nagle era. As a result, prison numbers throughout this period began to escalate. Leading the backlash against the reform period, he saw the opportunity to exploit law and order issues electorally and wanted to be seen as someone who ‘put the value back in punishment' (Brown and Wilkie 2002).  Apart from the legacy of the Sentencing Act Yabsley became particularly unfavourable amongst prisoners with the introduction of his private property policy, and other restrictions on visits, classifications and almost every aspect of prison life.  The legacy of the “Yabsley years” was in Brown's words “a savage attack on prison conditions, aiming quite literally to intensifying the punitive force of the experience of imprisonment” (Brown 2006 pxxi).

Other influential figures in the later years of the 1980s until the present were the popular radio announcers John Laws and Alan Jones, who waged their own “war against crime” and enjoyed considerable political influence, despite their limited audience.

.Major inquiries

i) Inquiry into Health Services for the psychiatrically ill and Developmentally Delayed (aka Richmond Report) 1983

In 1982, the NSW Minister for Health set up the Inquiry into Health Services for the Psychiatrically ill and Developmentally Delayed (hereafter referred to as the Richmond report) to examine funding alternatives to institutional care. Often associated with the deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill, the essence of the Richmond Report focused on decreasing the size and number of mental hospitals within NSW; expanding the existing integrated community networks; maintaining clients within the community; separating developmental disability services from mental health services and changing funding arrangements (Select Committee on Mental Health 2002) The recommendations were taken on by the NSW Government, with changes to policy implemented in 1984.The Richmond Report is often seen as a turning point in the growth in the number of people who suffer from a mental illness imprisoned within the NSW prison system (O'Toole & Ellard 2005:4). Funds saved by closing institutions were not reinvested in adequate community services.   

ii) Women in Prison Task Force (1985)

Preliminary discussions about construction of a new women's prison in NSW led to the 1985 Women in Prison Task Force, which was put together to discuss current conditions for female prisons within the NSW prison system. Such a document was particularly important in the light of the paucity of attention given to women prisoners in the Report of the Nagle Royal Commission in 1978.  At page 157 of the document, the Task Force accused the Department of publishing “misleading” information in its statement in the 1982/83 Annual report that the Aboriginal Liaison Officer was on duty 7 days a week and that the Aboriginal Medical Service had been extended to Parramatta, Silverwater Maitland and Cessnock prisons.

The Task Force was set up to ‘inquire into the appropriateness and adequacy of present custodial facilities for women in NSW prisons and to review, examine and make recommendations on a wide range of issues relating to female prisoners .(NSW Women in Prison Task Force Report 1985). The committee was comprised of broad representation, including both correctional and community groups, and made nearly 300 recommendations relating to the management of women in the NSW prison system. Most importantly, the Task Force found that most women within prison are not violent offenders and therefore pose a lower risk to the community, that there was an abnormally high proportion of women on remand (Task Force Report 1985: 42) and recommended that the number of women inmates should be kept below 100 inmates (Baldry 2004). Unfortunately, many of these recommendations were not considered, let alone implemented, until the Women's Action Plan was released in 1994 by the Department of Corrective Services (Baldry 2004).

iii) NSW Task Force on Domestic Violence (1981)

In July 1981 the NSW Task Force on Domestic Violence reported to the Premier. The importance of a close and positive working relationship between, in particular the Women's Coordination Unit headed by Helen L'Orange (supported by a loose but active network of refuge workers and other human professionals) and the political and legislative sector is reflected in the fact that the subsequent amendments to the Crimes Act, the Crimes (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act (NSW) 1981, in substance enact the recommendations of the report. Another important area where this nexus of political will, bureaucratic support and community activism led to far reaching legislative reform in this period is the newly named “sexual assault” provisions of the Crimes (Sexual Assault) Amendment Act NSW (1983).

Vulnerable populations

From 1976, when Justice Nagle took evidence, until the 1985 prison census there was an increase of 61% of incarcerated women: a rise from 81 to 208 women prisoners respectively over a 7 year period (Brown et al 1988).

An interdepartmental committee comprising health, welfare and corrections identified in their report of 1986 the absence of appropriate services generally for “intellectually handicapped” young adults and, in particular, young adult offenders. Despite this, specialised services for this vulnerable group were not provided within the prison system until 1989 (with small units at Parklea - 8 inmates and Mulawa - 6 inmates).

‘Risk' related developments

Prisoners considered high risk such as Peter Schneidas, continued to be managed largely by segregation, although some attempts were eventually made to modify this harsh regime after his 57 day hunger strike.

It is interesting to note however, that life sentence prisoners were considered in the early part of the decade by the IDS after 8 years (  DCS Annual Report 1982)

The statement by the Corrective Services Commission that “imprisonment must be justified as punishment and not based on false claims of “rehabilitating the offender. ...research shows that rehabilitative programmes are ineffective.” (DCS Annual Report 1980:1), reflected Nagle's view and heralds the impact of the “nothing works” school of thought on prison management in NSW. 

Diversionary programs and sentencing alternatives

The Community Service Order Scheme commenced in 1980 as part of a broader policy move toward the provision of alternatives to imprisonment. Judicial officers were given discretion to impose other penalties, including and primarily, imprisonment on breach.

The Special Care Unit at the Malabar Complex of Prisons was opened in 1981, despite the Commission's scepticism about rehabilitation. It was based on the concept of a therapeutic community, providing treatment for male inmates who experienced some form of emotional or behavioural disturbance. The unit was staffed by prison officers who volunteered to work there, and was the first therapeutic community in a penal setting. By 1987, 513 prisoners had participated in the programme (Schwartz & Propper 1988: 285).

The controversial Release on License Programme was commenced by Corrective Services Minister Rex Jackson in 1982 in an attempt to reduce prisoner numbers (although a version of early release had been present since the early days of the colony.) (Chan 1992:397) The programme was designed so that individual prisoners approaching the end of their sentences could be carefully assessed and, based on their demonstrated attitude and responsible behaviour could be released under community supervision. A special Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Justice Slattery, found that Minister Rex Jackson had been guilty of accepting sums of money for early release to prisoners, and was subsequently charged and imprisoned for corruption in 1986. By this time the programme had fallen into disrepute and was subsequently discontinued.

Attendance Centres were first established with Commonwealth funding in 1984 as a voluntary sentencing option. The programme was formalised in 1987 by an amendment to the Community Service Orders Act, although the Attendance Centres did not subsequently expand and were eventually abolished .

Prisoner/other resistance

a) Prison riots

In October 1980, when prison officers fired on prisoners at Parramatta Gaol, at least 15 prisoners were injured and one prison officer was affected by tear gas. (Zdenkowski & Brown 1982:206) The terrible irony of the situation is that prison officers were scheduled to strike that night for the same reason prisoners were protesting: the long agonizing wait after Nagle had resulted in recommendations that disciplinary action was to be taken against only two officers (Zdenkowsi & Brown 1982:207). At this point, although criminal charges were never laid, 30 prison officers were given notice for serious illegal conduct.

In 1982 a “serious disturbance” at Goulburn caused damage worth $44,995. (DCS Annual Report 1982/3)

In 1987, a disturbance at Parklea Prison in which several prison officers were injured ,  was attributed to the consumption of “gaol brew” and led to the removal of sugar and restrictions on fruit within the correctional system.

Following the implementation of the restrictive Private Property Policy in the late eighties, prisoner unrest took place at Bathurst, Parklea, Long Bay and Cessnock.

b) Industrial action

The Government's decision to take disciplinary action against the officers named adversely in the Nagle Report and their refusal to reopen Katingal, saw officers walking off the job in seven prisons in NSW in October 1980. The strike lasted for 8 days, and led to a consultative conference which lasted for 6 days in November. In 1981, a total of 500 officers at Long Bay went on strike again when the Superintendent at the Metropolitan Reception Prison refused to transfer six prisoners whose removal had been demanded by the Prison Officers Vocational Branch.

In 1984 prison officers continued to resist reforms by threatening to strike. The 1984 strike lasted for 35 days between 7th February and 15th March and became the longest and most important strike in the history of NSW prisons (Grant 1992:170). Prisoners within the system during the 1984 strike were given remissions of up to four months (Ellard 1988:240). Following the strike, a dispute settlement procedure was developed, but no real effort was made to redefine prison officer's roles in the light of the recommendations in the Nagle Royal Commission (Grant 1992:170).


A review of the criminal legislation implemented through the Australian States and Territories in this decade clearly demonstrates that the law and order debate had a significant effect across all jurisdictions. Tougher penalties for certain crimes and increased focus on many sex-related and weapons offences and changes to sentencing law and practice all indicated the new direction and emphasis on the role of the victim within the criminal justice system. A common thread in the debate was the need to ‘get tough' on crime which shaped most of the political debate about law and order throughout the 1990s. (Simpson & Griffith 1999:48). What emerged was a ‘penal populism' in both rhetoric and practice of severe punishment, which developed substantially throughout the 90s as public opinion came to play an important role in both the production of sentencing policy and reforms (Totaro 2003).

In NSW the 1990s saw a consolidation of this law and order approach, and a continuation of the reversal of the post Nagle reform process. In response to the subsequent massive increase in prison numbers following “truth in sentencing”, the biggest jail building programme this century was being undertaken with extensions to Lithgow (330 beds) $52m (Moore 1991); the Metropolitan Remand Centre (900 beds), and the new privately run Junee facility (600 beds). Prison expansion also occurred in 1991-1992 at Tamworth, Newnes, and the John Morony Correctional Centres (Ramsland 1996:329). In addition, new cells were being built at Parklea (96 cells), Goulburn (60 cells) and Grafton (60 cells), and planning had commenced for a new 330 cell gaol at Scheyville (Moore 1991). Prison overcrowding was at crisis level in the early part of the decade, with police cells backing up with prisoners unable to be transferred.

Prison privatization had been firmly on the agenda since the dominance of economic rationalist policies in government in the late 1980's, and finally came into effect in NSW in 1994 . Offering perhaps the added bonus of demonstrating to the Prison Officers Union their reduced relevance in determining matters of high level prison policy, the opening of Junee Correctional Centre in 1994 opened the way for private sector involvement in prison management in NSW. Despite this, Junee remains the only privately managed prison in NSW.

 The major response of the Yabsley administration to the perceived problem of drugs in prison was the commencement of a drug testing programme. Yabsley claimed that illicit drug use was rampant in NSW prison with 80% of the prison population using illicit drugs. Such a claim was disproved when 4569 urine tests were conducted between October 1988 and February 1989 showed only 109 positive testing prisoners, a rate of 8.2% of the prison population. (Grant 1992: 134).

The recognition of intravenous drug use as a risk factor for HIV infection was a contentious issue in the 90s which came to a head in 1990 when a prison officer was stabbed with a blood filled syringe and developed HIV and eventually AIDS. The property policy by Michael Yabsley introduced following this incident virtually eliminated all private property in maximum security prisons.  Prisoners rioted against this and other policies, which led the Federal Human Rights Commission to describe the conditions in NSW prisons as “a very serious violation of human rights”, breaching both the United Nations Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on    and Political Rights (Grant 1992:4). Minister of Corrective Services Michael Yabsley also caused public and community outrage when he proclaimed that rape in gaol was inevitable.

The NSW Department of Corrective Services introduced some reform throughout this period. Programs were introduced such as the Young Offenders Program, the Crisis Support Unit at Long Bay; the Lifestyle Unit for HIV-positive inmates; and the Special Management Support Program for intellectually disabled inmates (Ramsland 1996:329). Funding for inmate education increased dramatically in 1991-1992 by 66%, which resulted in an increase in inmate participation in education activities to 44% in March 1992, from a low 23% in March 1991 (Ramsland 1996:330). The increase in funding reflects an increasing recognition of the need for education and  a small modification of Minister Yabsley's hardline stance.

 Rates of Incarceration

In March 1988 there were 4015 prisoners within the NSW prison system, which rose to 6063 in September 1991, an increase of 51% in just three years, with an incarceration rate of 100 per 100,000 (Grant 1992:197). By 1993, 43% of Australia's inmates were held within NSW prisons (p. 197).  In 1993, 43% of Australia's prisoners were in NSW jails. In 1992, the NSW prison numbers which had climbed over 6,000 were squeezed into 4816 cells, a deficit of around 12000 cells (Grant 1992:5).

By 2000, the prison population had risen to 8, 547 prisoners within NSW, with 7, 971 males and 576 females (Bureau of Statistics 2000).

Major legislative changes

a) Bail

i) Bail (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1993
includes murder and domestic violence offences in exceptions to the presumption

ii) Criminal Legislation Amendment Act 1995
includes other murder -related offences in exceptions to the presumption

iii) Bail Amendment Act 1998-
includes ongoing supply and other serious offences including sexual assault in exceptions to the presumption

b) Sentencing

Home Detention Act 1996

Following a pilot home detention scheme using electronic monitoring, the Home Detention Act 1996 (NSW) provides the opportunity for the court to sentence an offender to imprisonment by home detention for no longer than 18 months. The sentence is not available for some violent offences, or for an offender who has a history of violent offences, such as domestic violence. The court cannot make the order unless they are satisfied that the person is a suitable candidate for home detention (Brown et al 2003:1454)

Crimes Amendment (Mandatory Life Sentence) Act 1996 

Introduced by the Carr Government, the Crimes Amendment (Mandatory Life Sentences Act 1996 outlined specific circumstances in which it is mandatory for a court to impose a life sentence for certain crimes, including murder or trafficking of large quantities of heroin or cocaine (Brown et al 2003:1391). This legislation began to replicate the ‘one strike and you're out' mentality, where a mandatory life sentence was imposed for an atrocious crime (Brown et al 2003:20)

Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999

The Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 rationalized and consolidated sentencing law throughout NSW. The Sentencing Act 1989; the Community Service Orders Act 1979; the Periodic Detention of Prisoners Act1981; the Home Detention Act 1996; the Justices Act 1902l were repealed and their contents amalgamated with provisions previously contained in the Crimes Act 1900 and the Criminal Procedure Act 1986.

c) Other significant legislative changes

i) Fines Act 1996

Commencing in 1998, the Fines Act 1996 saw restrictions on the us imprisonment as an option for fine defaulters, and established the State Debt Recovery Office, which was given extensive powers to enforce fines. Under the legislation, if fines (including infringement notices and court-imposed fines) are not paid on their due date, the matter is referred to the State Debt Recovery Office, for enforcement, which may include suspension or cancellation of driver license, civil enforcement (including property seizure), community service. While imprisonment on breach of a CSO remained an option, this has been rarely used. ( NSW Law and Justice Foundation 2008)

ii) Young Offenders Act 1997
Effective from April 1998, the Young Offenders Act 1997 establishes a scheme for alternative sanctions for juveniles who commit certain offences through the use of youth justice conferences, cautions and warnings (Brown et al 2003:121). The legislation changed the way police and the criminal justice system dealt with juveniles, directing them to alternative forms of intervention.  In the first few years after the Young Offenders Act was enacted, approximately 5,000 referrals were made to youth conferences and approximately 20% were Aboriginal young offenders (Cunneen & White 2002)
iii) Crimes Legislation (Police and Public Safety) Act 1998 -

The introduction of New South Wales (NSW) Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police and Public Safety) Act 1998 aimed at addressing increasing public concern relating to the increase of knife related crime following a cluster of highly reported knife related incidents, including the fatal stabbing of two police officers. The legislation was introduced in the lead up to the 1995 state election, when Bob Carr and the Labour Party released the ‘Anti-gang Strategy'. The introductions of the new legislation gave police ‘move on' powers to direct people and stop certain activities (LIAC 1999).

Major cases

a) Prison officer stabbed with needle

On 22 July 1990, prison officer Geoffrey Pearce was stabbed by prisoner Graham Far low with a blood filled syringe at Long Bay. Mr Pearce had only just finished training at the Prison Officer Academy four weeks prior to the incident, and discovered on 30 August 1990 that he had contracted the AIDS virus from the infected needle. The incident sparked a number of subsequent events within the system. At Long Bay, 900 prison officers walked out for 24 hours and were joined by 160 colleagues from Mulawa Women's prison in protest for the refusal by the Minister of Corrective Services Michael Yabsley to segregate prisoners who tested positive for HIV and who were infected with the HIV virus (Harvey et al 1990). The incident triggered various debates about HIV infection within prisons, needle sharing and condoms, which subsequently led to various important changes for the system.

b) Ex-prisoner Richard Lynott sues NSW Government for contracting AIDS virus

Following previous debates about AIDS within the NSW prison system, Richard Lynott sued the NSW Government in 1996 for negligence over its failure to supply condoms and clean syringes within the State's prisons whilst he was in the State's custody, control and care (Thorp 1996). The inmate had contracted the virus after intravenous drug use and having unprotected homosexual sex because condoms were not supplied nor permitted within the gaol (Papadopoulos 1996).

c) Gregory Wayne Kable

Whilst Kable was in prison for the manslaughter of his wife he made a number of violent threats to the carers of his two children, which were viewed by a psychiatrist as “a form of psychological violence, only slightly removed from extreme physical violence”. As a result, Kable's release from prison became a strong political issue, and the NSW Government set up the Community Protection Act 1994 (later overturned by the High Court) which permitted the Supreme Court of New South Wales to order the specific preventative detention of Kable. Such a case sparked much debate about the predictions of future dangerousness, and the way these issues impact on the rule of law. (Gregory Wayne Kable v Department of Public Prosecutions 1996 189 CLR 51)

Major policy changes

Under Minister Yabsley's administration, policy changes included harsh escape provisions; shorter time out of cells; escapees to spend all of sentences in maximum security;  cuts to education, recreation and rehabilitation; reduced access to prisoner allowance, private money and the private policy (Grant 1992:199); and banning of prisoner produced magazines (Brown 1991: p33).

The Federal Government's “Tough on Drugs” strategy was announced in 1997 and in keeping with our international obligations under the UN, ensured that the vast majority of criminal justice resources were spent on interdiction and other law enforcement strategies. The draconian Private Property Police was introduced in 1990 to eradicate the secretion of such items such as needles following the stabbing of Geoffrey Pearce. The new policy was to eliminate almost all private property held by inmates in maximum security prisons, which included wedding rings, photographs and religious ornaments (Grant 1992:137). Following the introduction of this policy, riots occurred at Bathurst, Parklea, Long Bay and Cessnock, totalling $6 million in immediate damage, followed by $4 million in lost industry contracts (p.137).

Following Richard Lynott's case in 1996, condoms were made freely available to 1,000 inmates at Bathurst Gaol, Long Bay's Remand Centre and the Industrial Training Centre for a six month trial period (Sunday Telegraph 22 December1996). An internal report on the success of the controversial trial distribution led to the installation of condom vending machines in all NSW gaols, made freely available to the State's male inmates. Compulsory testing for HIV was also introduced in 1990, despite the lack of support from the World Health Organisation.

a) Recruitment and training of prison staff

The SOD (Special Operations Division) was developed to respond to disturbances and rose to an increasingly prominent role in prison management. (Grant 1992:199).

b) Professionalisation/bureaucratisation of prisons

In 1991 the Office of Public Management carried out a review of the management structure of the Department which resulted in a management restructure towards a regionalised model (Ramsland: 326)


Following the Kennedy Report in Queensland in 1980 the NSW Government commissioned the Kleinwort Benson Report to examine the involvement of the private sector in running State prisons in NSW. The report recommended that the Government approve the operation of a privately run facility within NSW to assist with the high level of remand prisoners expected over the following decade (Grant 1992:127). As a result, Junee was commenced in 1990 and completed in 1994, managed by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), a fully owned subsidiary of Wackenhut, a huge US prison corporation. Junee was quite unique as it was the only correctional centre within New South Wales which was designed, built and managed by the private sector (Ramsland 1996:329).

The privatisation of prisons has been a highly controversial issue, with many arguing that prisons provide punishment to be imposed by the power of the State to promote retribution and deterrence (Grant 1992:128). Involving private enterprise in the human services delivery role of prisons was part of an overall government policy of privatisation although it was not expanded in NSW for some time.

c) Education/work/health programs in prison

Under Commissioner Neville Smethurst, many programs were developed throughout the system throughout the early 90s, including the Young Offenders Program, The Crisis Support Unit, the HIV Lifestyle Unit, the Special Management Support Program, and units which catered for intellectually disabled inmates, developed at Goulburn, Mulawa and Windsor (Ramsland 1996:329).

After a sex offender on work release sexually assaulted a child, the Minister suspended all work release programmes and appointed Justice Torrington to set strict new guidelines. (Daily Telegraph  1996).

During a period of reform to health care delivery in correctional centres in the early 1990s, the Prison Medical Service became the Corrections Health Service and in 1994, the Service was designated a statutory health corporation. As the previous system often resulted in fragmentation, conflict and confused accountability, the restructuring led to improved delivery of health services to inmates in NSW (NSW Justice Health 2009).

The emphasis on prison industry led to complaints from business and a review was conducted in 1992.

d) Probation and Parole

On 1 November 1991, the Probation and Parole Service was removed from the Department of Corrective Services, renamed the Community Corrections Service, and added to the responsibilities of the recently formed Department of Courts Administration. On 23 June 1993, the Community Corrections Service was renamed the NSW Probation Service. It was probably around this time that the parole function of the Service was transferred from the Department of Courts Administration to the Department of Corrective Services. The Probation and Parole Services then operated as separate agencies. The new agencies were re- amalgamated in 1995.

e) Key leaders/figures driving change

NSW Premier Robert Carr, 4.4.1995 - 3.8.2005 (Australian Labour Party)

The law and order auction reached new heights under the Bob Carr's election campaigns in the 1990s. Often media -friendly throughout his time in office, Bob Carr argued that the substantial increases in the NSW prisoner population showed that his tough stance on crime and justice was working since his party came into power. He advocated for a zero tolerance of crime, urged courts to impose harsher penalties on dangerous and violent offenders, and made substantial changes to police powers. During his time in office, the NSW imprisonment rate climbed from 25% below the national average in 1998 to 4.5% above in 2002. (O'Malley 2003). Carr was particularly proud of such increases, boasting that criminals should be “cemented into their cells” (Sydney Morning Herald 2001) and that we will be “safer if violent criminals are locked behind bars. Under this Government, more criminals are being locked away than ever before.” (Totaro 2002)

Major Inquiries

a) Wood Royal Commission

The 1997 Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service (Wood Royal Commission) uncovered significant levels of institutional corruption among police, particularly associated with drug law enforcement. Such examples of such corruption included process corruption (planting of drugs on suspects); recreational drug use by police; the interference by police  in criminal justice processes and prosecutions; theft and extortion; protection of the drug trade and drug trafficking (Brown et al 2003:184). The Royal commission led to a large number of changes and reform to the NSW Police Service, including the establishment of the Police Integrity Commission.  So-called “noble cause” corruption cast doubt on the conviction of many prisoners serving sentences in NSW (although relatively few were successful in having their convictions overturned).

b) The Drug Summit -Drugs on the agenda

While drug related crime had been identified as a growing problem since the previous decade, the emergence of a thriving, visible drug market in Cabramatta caused considerable angst for the government. Various policing operations ensued, which largely drove the drug trade indoors and to neighbouring areas, resulting in further legislation regarding “drug houses”. The Drug Summit was held in 1999 and made numerous recommendations, including the Injecting Room at Kings Cross and the Drug Court, both still pilot programmes. The 1999 Drug Summit was convened at NSW Parliament House and included members of Parliament, experts and professionals, community representatives, families and people with drug problems, working together to provide solutions to the drug problem (Brown et al 2003:1085). The Summit adopted twenty principles and 172 recommendations relating to the prevention of drug abuse, young people and drug use health maintenance and treatment services; case management and training; breaking the drug cycle; drugs in prison; drugs and community responses; law enforcement; drug education; and drugs in rural and regional areas (p. 1085).

c) Independent Commission Against Corruption Inquiry into Informers

The ICAC inquiry examined issues related to whistle blowing, informers, accountability and the use of confidential information. It examined the conduct of public officials (including prison officers and police) in relation to the use of informers, prisoners and indemnified persons to assist with the investigation and prosecution processes. (ICAC 1993). The inquiry found that the management of informers, widely used by prison authorities and police, was poorly documented, leading to “deficiencies in the Department's records system and flow of information” to relevant legal bodies (police, prosecution and defence) (p. 90). Ron Woodham was found to have “ engaged in misleading conduct” in relation to his management of prison informers (p. 96) The inquiry recommended that consideration of action be taken against two officers for engaging in corrupt conduct.

d) Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Growing public concern about the amount of Aboriginal deaths occurring in custody throughout Australia began to take force when it became apparent that deaths were occurring too frequently and were being poorly explained to the public (Anscomb 2005:110). As a result, on 10 August 1987 Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced the formation of a Royal Commission into investigate the causes of deaths of Aboriginal people whilst held in State and Territory custody.

The commission examined 99 deaths of Aboriginal people which occurred in each State and Territory between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989 and produced reports on each individual case. The Final Report made 339 recommendations which addressed the procedures for persons in custody, police education, liaison with Aboriginal groups and improved accessibility to information. The RCIADIC led to the recognition of the need for specific programs for aboriginal prisoners (Cunneen 2004). The Commonwealth Government devoted $400 million to a range of programs and initiatives specifically designed to address the factors contributing to the social and economic disadvantage of Indigenous Australians, and the discrimination faced within the criminal justice system (Snowball & Weatherburn 2006).

While the RCIADIC did not find that there had been systemic and deliberate foul play. the report did however acknowledge that there appeared to be “little appreciation of and less dedication to, the duty of care by custodial authorities and their officers” (Anscomb 2005:110).

Despite the RCIADIC, the situation for Aboriginal people in Australian prisons has continued to deteriorate with an over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody (Anscomb 2005:110). In 1994, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns at the high rates of Aboriginal deaths in custody, and later in 2000 at the high rates of incarceration.

Vulnerable populations

a) Women

The rate of female incarceration in NSW increased dramatically during the period between July 1994 and June 1999, reflected in both the remand and sentenced population (Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population 2001). According to the NSW Department of Corrective Services, the female prison population rose from a daily average of 291 to 412 between January 1995 and 16 January 2000, an increase of 41.6% (p.10). Such increases rises in female incarceration were part of a national trend.

In attempt to address the specific issues relating to women, the Women's Action Plan (1994) finally implemented some of recommendations of the 1984 Task Force (Baldry 2004). Among various initiatives, a minimum security facility for women was opened at Emu Plains as well as a transitional centre at Parramatta. The Ombudsman's report on Mulawa, in response to concerns about high levels of self harm, found that significant improvements had been made in health care for women, probably due to the Women's Action Plan.

b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

see Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

‘Risk' related developments

The Community Protection Act 1994 was enacted to specifically prevent the release of a prisoner (Gregory Wayne Kable). The Act was eventually overturned by the High Court in 1996 but proved to be the forerunner to more general preventive detention legislation.

Diversionary programs (sentencing alternatives, non-custodial options)

With the aim of examining and creating diversionary programs for women, the NSW Department of Corrective Services Action Plan involved consultation within the community, including community groups, academics, departmental officers and female inmates. The plan called for capital works initiatives so that greater placement options were available for women and that women experienced a higher level of access to existing programs. (Ramsland 1996:334)

 A Periodic Detention Centres was opened in Wollongong and a work release unit at Parklea

Prisoner/Other Resistance

a) Prisoner riots

Some of the worst examples of prisoner unrest and riots were witnessed in the NSW prison system in April and September/October 1990, following the introduction by Minister Yabsley of the restrictive Private Property Policy.  The former incident led to an Ombudsman's Inquiry which recommended criminal charges be laid against a number of Special Operations (Emergency Unit) prison officers; whilst the latter (brought on by introduction of the harsh Prison Property Policy) caused massive damage to Parklea and a number of other prison institutions across the state (Grant 1992:4). Lockdowns in the prison system occurred across the state, which led to the Human Rights Commission to describe the conditions in NSW as “a very serious violation of human rights” (Grant 1992: 4)  One thousand prisoners remained locked in their cells one month later. (p196).

b) Industrial action

Industrial action in NSW from prison officers tended to focus in the 90s around the issue of HIV infection amongst prisoners. Following the stabbing of prison officer Geoffrey Pearce, 900 prison officers walked out for 24 hours at Long Bay and were joined by 160 colleagues from Mulawa Women's prison. Prison officers were rallying in protest for the refusal by the Minister of Corrective Services Michael Yabsley to segregate prisoners who tested positive for HIV and who were infected with the HIV virus (Harvey 1990)

A four day prison officer's strike also occurred in Berrima Gaol in early 1990 when an inmate known to have the HIV virus was transferred to the gaol instead of being placed at the Malabar AIDS Unit within the Assessment Prison at Long Bay.


Tipping points in penal culture shifts

The turn of the millenium and beyond has been characterised by wide spread insecurity, which Brown (2003) defines as “an increasing tendency to a politics of exclusion and othering” (p.171).  Prominent themes throughout this period have included the infamous ‘war on terror' and an increased discourse around fear of crime which have both contributed to changing circumstances governing the penal reform process.

Throughout this period there have been continual amendments to sentencing and bail laws which have subsequently led to further increases in prisoner population and the proportion of remand prisoners. Numerous new offences have been created, especially relating to “gang activity” and “drug house” activity, with various aggravating features also included (Roth 2007:14). The most significant changes so far have been the reintroduction of suspended sentences, and the requirement for reasons to be given for sentences under six months (Roth 2007:5).

The beginning of the 21st Century saw the re emergence of a philosophy of management of “high risk offenders by segregation and behaviour modification  exemplified by the Supermax prison at Goulburn. The High Risk Management Unit (also referred to as HARM-U by prisoners) at Goulburn became the focus of considerable concern, particularly with reference to the number of inmates within the unit suffering from mental health problems and the failure of the unit to “provide a therapeutic environment for these inmates” (NSW Ombudsman 2008:128). The spirit and philosophy of Katingal  seemed to reappear when prisoners began complaining about the lack of natural light and fresh air; access to legal books; the use of isolation and solitary confinement; limited and enclosed exercise; and the high rates of self mutilation and harsh treatment occurring throughout the facility (Brown 2003:171; Brown 2004:139). The death of Scott Simpson, an inmate who suffered from mentally illness and was held in isolation at Goulburn, was also the subject of a coronial inquiry and led to criticisms of Corrective Services (Pinch 2006).

In February 2009 the new hospital to treat mentally ill prisoners was officially opened at Sydney's Long Bay Hospital. The new $86 million facility has been designed to accommodate people who have been found not guilty by virtue of mental illness (ABC 2009), and is the first of its kind in the state as it is being run by Justice Health in the NSW Health Department.

Rates of Imprisonment

It is clear from examining the statistics that the prison population has escalated to unimagined levels. Between 1982 and 2000 there was a staggering 129% increase in the prison population, both in numbers and as a rate per unit of population. In NSW, the imprisonment rate in 2000 was 172 per 100,000 (Hogg 2002:5), an increase of 78.6% since 1982.

The full time custody daily average for the NSW prison population in 2008 was 9634 inmates, up from 8367 inmates from the 2003/04 period (NSW Department of Corrective Services 2008:105). Although comparisons between recidivism rates across states is difficult due to differences in legislation  and methods o  data collection , the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2008 found that the national average of recidivism rate was 38.4%, compared with a rate of 43.5% for NSW (Knox & Tadros 2008).

For the period ending 10 May 2009 the number of inmates in NSW prisons was 10,455; 21.3% of the male population was indigenous and a staggering 31.4% of the female prison population was indigenous. (Offender Population Report Department of Corrective services Research and Evaluation Division: Week ending 10 May 2009.)

Major legislative changes

a) Bail

i) Bail Amendment Act 2007

The ability of an accused person to make more than one bail application was seriously circumscribed under these amendments. The new section 22a of the Bail Act 1978 states that the court “is to refuse” a second bail application if the application has been previously dealt with by the court. Exceptions to this rule include when a person was not represented legally at the first application or where new facts or circumstances have occurred since the first application (Haesler 2007).

b) Sentencing

i) Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (General
Sentencing Principles) Act 2002 defined the matters to be taken in to account by a court on sentence.

ii) Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Standard Minimum Sentencing) Act 2002

The Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Standard Minimum Sentencing) Act establishes a new sentencing scheme with standard minimum sentences for many common offences. The purposes of sentencing were included for the first time in legislation in NSW. The new section 21a requires specific aggravating and mitigating factors to be taken into account by sentencing courts when determining the appropriate sentence for an offence. This new section also requires the court to take into account any other objective or subjective factor which affects the seriousness of the offence committed (Loukas 2003).

Brown (2002) points out that the two pieces of sentencing legislation passed immediately before the 2003 elections were substantially against the advice of the Law Reform Commission, and, impliedly a hastily conceived attempt to win the “law and order auction” which pervaded the pre- election period. (Brown 2002: 65) As a part of a broader movement towards circumscribing judicial discretion in sentencing, mandatory minimum sentences, while substantially increasing the tariff for many offences ( Brown :72), were seen as a way to avoid the more extreme manifestations of this trend, as judicial discretion is maintained. (Brown: 72)

iii) Crimes (Serious Sex offenders) Act 2006

This is the first time that general legislation has been passed to allow for the detention of a person after they have served their sentence (as opposed to the legislation relating to Gregory Wayne Kable which, although drafted in general terms, applied only to him.) This new provision allows the Attorney General to make an application to the Supreme Court to either keep a convicted sex offender in custody, or place them under supervision orders post-release (Haesler 2007).The lack of opportunity for prisoners detained to complete the required rehabilitative programs due to lack of places was commented on by the NSW Ombudsman (2008) in the 2007/8 annual report.

d) Parole

A more restricted environment has also developed in relation to parole. Decisions of the Parole Authority and the recommendations of the professionals who advise them, are increasingly based   on risk assessment, which is administered by way of actuarially based psychological assessment in the prison environment. Concerns about the application of such technologies of risk to women and indigenous offenders have arisen in the context of soaring rates of imprisonment of these groups. 

Since the amendments to the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act   in 2004, which require a period of twelve months to lapse before a person whose parole has been revoked can be reviewed by the NSW Parole Authority, it appears a number of factors in this area may be contributing to the large increase in the prison population. It may be that recent practice has seen a return to the pre - Nagle situation of automatic revocation of parole on further charge; no matter how minor the subsequent charge. This logically leads to a situation where parolees with short sentences will serve all of their sentences in custody before any fresh charges are dealt with.

 e) Other significant legislative changes

Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002

Terrorism became the new bête noir and the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002 was passed in NSW. Subsequently, under a COAG agreement, powers to make legislation regarding terrorism were referred to the Commonwealth (Briefing paper 12/06 p 2).

Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002

The Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 was introduced in 2001 following a recommendation put forward by the Wood Royal Commission that NSW police powers be consolidated.

 Crimes Legislation Amendment (Gangs) Act 2006

This new legislationcreated offences for the participation in criminal groups; recruitment of children into gangs; further criminalisation of assaults and other actions against police; and higher maximum penalties for malicious damage offences committed during a ‘public disorder'. (Haesler 2006)

Jury Amendment (Verdict) Act 2006

Commencing on 26 May 2006, amendments to the Jury Act now permit majority verdicts in the case where the jury has deliberated for at least 8 hours and the court is satisfied that a unanimous decision is unlikely. This can only occur after the court has taken evidence of oath from more than one juror, and does not apply for Commonwealth offences (Haesler 2006).

Major cases

A series of gang rapes across Sydney by two groups of young men, one a group of Lebanese Australians led by Bilal Skaf in 2001-2, the other, four Pakistani brothers in 2002 known as the ‘K' brothers, were extensively reported, with a great deal of attention paid to the perceived racial and cultural dimensions of the crimes (Dagistanli 2007:181). Following the case of Bilal Skaf and his co-offenders, the Crimes Amendment (Aggravated Sexual Assault in Company) Bill 2001 was created.

 In the case of the ‘K' brothers the defendants sought to personally cross-examine the victim. Widespread publicity given to the case was intensified by the somewhat bizarre behaviour of the defendants. An amendment to criminal procedure legislation in the (Criminal Procedure Amendment (Sexual Offence Evidence) Bill 2003 was enacted as a result of the case to prevent defendants from personally cross examining their victims. The ‘K' brothers became the first group in NSW to be convicted of aggravated sexual assault in company, a legalisation created earlier by the Bilal Skaf group.

Major policy changes

a) Recruitment and training of prison officers

The NSW Department of Corrective Services began a campaign in December 2008 to recruit 300 short-term casual correctional officers (DCS Dec 23 2008). The first eleven criterion of the “Self Assessment Tool” provided to potential applicants largely referred to security based concerns and only two of the fifteen appeared to address to ability to deal with people.

b) Educational/work/health programs in prison

Programmes are now organised on a “risk/ needs” basis, with the “what works” philosophy having been so influential to the extent that “high risk offenders” are now said to be prioritised and only programmes which can be demonstrated to reduce recidivism are implemented. Many programmes are seen as openly coercive or only partly voluntary and programmes necessary for some categories of offenders to be paroled have long waiting lists (sex offenders in particular).

In February 2009 the NSW Government officially opened the new hospital at Sydney's Long Bay Hospital, which is designed for forensic patients who have been found not guilty by virtue of mental illness. The new $86 million dollar hospital is the first of its kind, being run entirely by Justice Health rather than Corrective Services. On the new site, there will be no prison guards on duty, which has raised some concern (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2009). The centre has 135 beds in the hospital, although there are 340 prisoners within the NSW prison system who fall into the category suitable for the hospital (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2009). Justice Health acknowledged that patients will still receive treatment in other gaols.

NSW Cabinet approved legislation in 2002 to effectively cap the amount of compensation claimed by prisoners injured in custody as payments tripled in a year from $1m to over $3.1 m in 2001 ( Paola Totara , Sydney Morning Herald 3 May 2002)

c) Professionalisation/bureaucratisation of prisons

While acknowledging the fact that the Department of Corrective Services NSW has undergone significant change over the past twenty years, Sotiri's review of Annual Reports from the early nineteen eighties indicates that “the frequency with which the department announces its new directions detracts from the sense that these shifts are in fact the dramatic departures from the status quo that the reports suggest.”(Sotiri 2003:299).

Correctional management within the Department continued to be predicated on avoidance of public or media scrutiny (Brown and Wilkie 2002:xx). The NSW Ombudsman's Report of 2007-2008 points to a problem repeatedly mentioned in its Annual Reports; that prisoners are being place in segregation “without knowing why or for how long, and without any segregation order”  (NSW Ombudsman 2008:125). The Behaviour Management Unit at Wellington prison, opened in August 2007 was found to be “similar to other management programmes” where participants had been illegally segregated (p.125). The NSW Ombudsman's 2002/3 report says that the Office was “surprised and disappointed by the introduction of an amendment to the segregation and protective custody provisions, making it unnecessary for such decisions to be reviewed and formally extended at relevant times. Such directions now remain in force until revoked” (NSW Ombudsman Annual report 2003:47).

The Department's Response to the Auditor General's Performance Audit on Prisoner Rehabilitation which used return to prison as a measures of recidivism indicates that the Department believes that “emphasis on return to prison rate as a measure of success does not include community based sanctions” and that the intolerance of the Government, the community and the Judiciary in NSW for repeat offenders... (means that) the return to prison rate is higher in NSW.”  (NSW DCS Annual Report 2005/6 Commissioner's Report :6)

d) Probation and parole

Amendments to the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 in 2005, for the first time gave the Probation and Parole Service (now the Community Corrections Service) a role defined in law for the assessment and supervision of people of parole. The amendments require the newly named State Parole Authority to specify the conditions of parole orders in the form of post release plans developed by the Service and for officers  of the Service to undergo a structured process of assessment of prisoners including emphasis on risk assessment

e) Key leaders/figures driving change

 Regarding the record of the Carr Labour government on criminal justice, as Brown says “it could hardly be argued that the Carr Government has been soft on law and order. Legislative activity has been intense, with, at a rough count, over 30 criminal justice statutes being passed in 2001 and 2002.” (Brown 2002:71)

Throughout the 2000s, successive Ministers have continued to drive the law and order agenda. John Hatzistergos has taken to the job with gusto and is now serving his second term as Minister.

Ron Woodham, Commissioner Corrective Services

Ron Woodham was appointed Commissioner of Corrective Services in 2002. Woodham, a career prison officer who headed the powerful Special Operations Unit, brought a security oriented approach which focused on reducing escapes and, impliedly, held out the hope to government of putting a lid on the industrial strife with prison officers which plagued the seventies and eighties.

His regime has been characterized by an emphasis on security and control. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 6 December 2008 in an article titled “Prison Power locked up with one man”, Commissioner Woodham's control over the NSW prison system is “incomparable either within the Public Service or in other prison services” (SMH 6 Dec 2008).

NSW Premier Nathan Rees appears to be  to be continuing the trend towards punitive law and order policies', stating ‘we have still got 500 cells empty, I don't mind if we fill them up, and if we fill them up and have to build another jail, we'll build another jail” (Knox & Tadros 2008).

Major inquiries

a) The NSW Legislative Council's Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population 2001

The proposal to construct a new purpose built facility for women at South Windsor prompted public outcry and the NSW Legislative Council authorised a Select Committee which was commissioned to “inquire into the factors responsible for the substantial increases in the prison population since 1995”. The interim report looked specifically at the effectiveness of incarceration as a response to women's criminality and other similar issues, whilst the final report discussed issues relating to the general prison population. It recommended a moratorium on the building of a new women's prison until a serious exploration of ways to reduce the number of women being sent to prison had been completed (Baldry 2004).

The report found that the most important factor for the growth of the NSW prison population was the increased use of remand, and that two-thirds of prisoners were serving sentences of less than 6 months. Other factors included longer sentences imposed by courts and increased police activity (Roth 2007:22). The Committee recommended that more attention should be paid to alternatives to imprisonment, and that sentences of less than six months be abolished. The political response to this “rational, democratic and well researched” report - it was “immediately repudiated by both the government and opposition in a bipartisan response which showed clearly the very real political limits to claims of ‘non-ideological, ‘evidence-led' policy formation in the law and order area”
(Brown & Wilkie 2002 pxxi).

b) Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Task force (2006)

The Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Task Force was set up by the NSW Attorney General Mr Bob Debus to examine issues relating to sexual assault within the community and the prosecution of such matters within the NSW criminal justice system. The Taskforce was to provide the Attorney General with advice on ways to improve the criminal justice systems responsiveness to victims of sexual assault, whilst ensuring that a fair trial is received by the accused (Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Task Force 2005:vi). The taskforce made 70 recommendations.

c) NSW Legislative Council on Mental Health (2002)

The NSW Legislative Council on Mental Health (2002) acknowledged literature which has shown that there has been a substantive increase in the amount of people sentenced to prison who have a mental illness. The report recommended that funding be allocated to the receptions screening program within NSW prisons, to ensure that inmates arriving at prison facilities who have a mental health problem are identified (rec 113); that the Minister for Health fund a secure forensic mental health facility for women (recommendation 115); that funding be provided to improve the facilities at Mulawa Correctional Centre for the treatment of women with a mental illness or disorder (116); and that future maximum and medium security forensic hospitals built to house NSW prisoners incorporate segregated accommodation which is suitable for both male and female prisoners (recommendation 17) (NSW Select Committee on Mental Health 2002:256-63).

Vulnerable populations

a) Women

The inmate population of women in NSW has continued to escalate at alarming rates. From 1995 to 2002, there was a 60% increase in the rate per 100,000 of women in prison in NSW (Gelb 2004:2).On June 30 2001 the characteristics of the 518 females within the NSW prison system were as follows: the average age of women inmates was 32 yrs; 73% of the female population was aged between 18 and 34; 21% were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people; and 80% of women inmates tested hepatitis C positive, in comparison with only 1% of the general population (Cameron 2001).

In 2000, the NSW Department of Corrective Services released the Women's Action Plan 2, which addressed the equity of access to services and programs for women inmates. The plan emphasized on a needs-based program for all women under its care, focusing on a continuity and consistency of programs and services for women from first contact with the system through to post release ( DCS Annual Report 2000/2001)

The Interim Report of the Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population (2001) considered a broader range of factors relating to women, including changes in policing practices; worsening social conditions for some women; legislative and policy changes; and the increased use of drugs (Brown 2002:112). The Committee recommended that community based sanctions be utilised more and that a moratorium be placed on the building of a new women's prison until a cost benefit analysis could be undertaken (Brown 2002:122). Despite this recommendation, the Dillwynia Correctional Complex was opened in 2004 and was the first purpose built facility for women. 

b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

The 2002 Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council report “Aboriginal People and Bail Courts in NSW” found that 10% of Aboriginal people were refused bail compared to 4% of the general population. Of remand inmates known to be Aboriginal, 45% did not receive a custodial sentence (Johns 2002b:32). The Bail Amendment (Repeat Offenders) Act extended the concept of community ties for Aboriginal applicants.

In May 2000 the Yetta Dhinnakkal Centre opened as a minimum security institution for Aboriginal males, as a part of the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

A trial of circle sentencing at Nowra was commenced in 2001 and was continued in 2008.
There is a rapidly increasing and hugely disproportionate number of Aboriginal women in NSW prisons - 32% of female prisoners.

In 2008, Indigenous offenders made up 20.4% of the NSW prison population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008).

 A NSW Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council study has found that almost half of all indigenous people refused bail did not receive a custodial sentence when their matter was finally dealt with (Debra Jopson Sydney Morning Herald 9 April 2002.) (Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council report on Bail. (AJAC 2000)

 The Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council (established in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission in to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody) published the NSW Aboriginal Justice Plan (2004-2014), “looking at ways Aboriginal people come in contact with the criminal justice system both as victims and offenders. The Plan is comprised of seven strategic directions, each describing an area of action to be undertaken to address the underlying causes of offending and incarceration in Aboriginal communities. (AJAC 2004)

Risk - related developments

The proliferation of post sentence confinement legislation throughout Australia based on the use of actuarial instruments measuring risk, raises concerns about the preservation of the presumption of innocence.“The danger with schemes such as these, particularly when constructed and interpreted in the manner described here, is that they open up what Robert Castel (1991: 289) has termed ‘a vast hygienist utopia' in which the play of community anxieties quickly subsumes any supposed liberty rights of offenders and in which arguably ‘run of the mill' offenders ..... may find themselves redefined as a chronic social threat.”(Brown 2008 p14)

In August 2008, the Minister announced a new security classification, the Extreme High Risk Restricted, more restricted than the existing High Security and Extreme High Security. The Explanatory Note to the subsequent Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment Regulation 2009 describes the aim of the amendment; “to establish a new designation for inmates believed to constitute an extreme danger to other persons or to good order and security.” These inmates are to have no access to the Official Visitor and their conditions of confinement are to be considered by the chairman of the Serious Offenders Review Council.

The recent decade has seen the designation of some prisoners as “public interest inmates”, such as Ivan Milat, Bilal Skaf and Sef Gonzales (Sotiri 2003:294) where the level of media interest can be so intense that “rules inside prisons are frequently changed” ( Sotiri 2003: 295) depending primarily on the level of publicity the case receives.

Diversionary programmes

The Compulsory Drug Treatment Correctional Centre was set up in September 2006 to accept people who have been sentenced to a Compulsory Drug Treatment Order by the Drug Court in Parramatta. The Centre is a therapeutic community inside the Parklea Prison Complex set up for male participants who have repeatedly offended in order to support their drug addiction.

In October 2008, after recommendations from the Sentencing Council of NSW the Minister for Justice John Hatzistergos announced a new community order to take the place of Periodic Detention the I. C. O, (Intensive Corrections Order) and released a discussion paper.  Some of the old Periodic Detention facilities have been recycled as post release accommodation. (COSP - Community Offender Support Programme.)The Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment Act 2008, which covers such diverse areas as parole and drug treatment centres and also provides legislative support for this scheme has not yet been proclaimed.

Prisoner/other resistance

a) Prison riots

In April 2002, in a disturbance at Goulburn gaol involving about 30 prisoners, a prison officer was allegedly seriously assaulted. (Kennedy, Sydney Morning Herald 17 April 2002)

In the 2004/5 Annual report, the Commissioner reported that there had been “no serious inmate on officer assaults recorded in the past four years” (DCS Annual Report 2004/5: 6)

b) Industrial Action

In 2008 the NSW Government announced the proposed privatisation of both Parklea and Cessnock prisons following negative publicity about the high rates of overtime claimed by prison officers, costing $43million, more than double the budgeted amount (Berdon, AAP 11 Nov 2008). The Governments new management plan titled ‘The Way Forward' angered officers who rallied, held stop work meetings and threatened further legal action against the proposed privatisation.  However, on 2 May 2009 it was announced that the NSW State Government had abandoned plans to privatise the prison, responding to community concern and the impact of the global financial crisis. Instead, the Government has stated that Cessnock will have to undertake reforms, it has been said that reforms to the NSW prison system are expected to save tax payers more than $60 million (Strachan 2009).

In March 2009, 150 workers at the Grafton jail in northern NSW walked off the jobs in fear that the correctional centre may be privatised, as a result of Ron Woodham's comments to the inquiry Privatisations of Prisons and Prison-related Services, which indicated that privatisation was an option for the future. (Australian Associated Press 2009).