(en) 1st Death in Custody at Port Phillip Private Prison

donna (donna@anarki.net)
Tue, 11 Nov 1997 01:47:32 +1100 (EST)

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George Drinken, a twenty-eight year old remand prisoner held at the Port Phillip prison was found hanged in his cell in the early evening of Thursday 30th October, 1997.

The Port Phillip Prison was only opened on August 18th, 1997 and has only been receiving prisoners in the last six weeks. The 600 cell maximum security and remand prison was holding approximately 400 prisoners on 30 October 1997.

Mr Drinken's death is the first suicide in a private prison in Victoria and the 18th death in custody in private prisons in Australia since 1992.

Mr Drinken was classified to the mainstream "Scarborough' unit at the time of his death. On the day of his death it is alleged that there were four serious bashings and one stabbing within the Scarborough unit alone.

Serious concerns have been conveyed to Group 4 Manager of Development and Operations; Stephen Twinn and the Director of Port Phillip Prison; Dave Mc Donnell, the Office of the Correctional Services Commissioner (OCSC) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commission; Michael Dodson, regarding the existence of six horizontal metal bars on the inside of each cell window in 580 cells at the Port Phillip Prison and 490 cells at the Fulham Correctional Centre (managed by Australasian Correctional Management). The existence of these bars, which provide multiple hanging points within cells explicitly violates recommendation 165 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which states in part: "Corrective Services authorities should carefully scrutinise equipment or facilities at institutions with a view to eliminating and/or reducing the potential for harm. Similarly steps should be taken to screen hanging points in police and prison cells".

Group 4, ACM and the Victorian Government are explicitly violating this critical recommendation. The Government are claiming that because Muirhead Cells (strip cells) have no obvious hanging points, they have complied with recommendation 165. This is a distortion of the content, intent and nature of recommendation 165. Stephen Twinn, when requestioned by the Corrections Working Group of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, about these hanging points replied that the bars were necessary for the purposes of "waterproofing the building". A senior Group 4 prison manager, Karen Linstrom said, that if the Corrections Working group gave her $600 000 that she would happily screen all the bars and that the cells were explicitly designed to Government specifications. No evidence of this direction to have bars placed on the inside of cells can be found in the "Briefs to Short-Listed Parties" for the Port Phillip Prison or the Fulham Correctional Centre.

The existence of hanging points in both Port Phillip Prison and the Fulham Correctional Centre may constitute a violation of Sections 20 and 21 of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic). Section 20(2) states that "an officer in charge of prisoners must take all reasonable steps for the safe custody and welfare of prisoners" and S21(1) states that "the Governor of a prison is responsible for the management and security and good order of the prison and the safe custody and welfare of the prisoners".

Serious concerns have been expressed about Group 4's internal classification system and the lack of effective and experienced oversight of the system. Concerns point to the mismanagement of classification as a contributing factor to the high rate of internal violence and standovers within the prison. Concerns have been raised about Group 4's policy of not separating remand and sentenced mainstream prisoners.

Concerns have also been raised as to the extremely low staff-prisoner ratios to manage 600 prisoners consisting of high security prisoners, protection prisoners, intellectually disabled and mentally ill prisoners, young and otherwise vulnerable prisoners, an in-patient facility and remand prisoners.

Concerns have been expressed as to the relative inexperience of staff (only 30% have any related corrections experience) and the length, quality and consistency of training provided by Group 4. Six group four recruits on a staff training course were sacked on 24th October 1997 for failing police probity checks.

A high level of illicit drug use has been reported. It is unclear what levels of prescription medications are being dosed out by the prison management and St. Vincent's Correctional Health Services, the prison's health care provider.


* After a three year Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody costing $30m and over $400m allegedly spent implementing the recommendations, how is it permissable that the Victorian Government allowed the building of the Fulham Correctional Centre ($55m) and the Port Phillip Prison ($60m) with hanging points in 1070 out of 1200 cells? These bars must be removed immediately! An audit of all custodial facilities in Victoria must be undertaken immediately and recommendation 165 must be implemented in full!

* What was the level of staffing and supervision at the Port Phillip prison on the day of Mr Drinken's death? Why has the Government failed to stipulate minimum staff ratios in private prison contracts and within the service agreement with CORE - the public correctional enterprise? Has inadequate staffing and training contributed to the high incidence of internal violence, self-harm and this suicide, as has been the experience at the Metropolitan Women's Cporrectional Centre in Deer Park and the Fulham Correctional Centre in West Sale, and now at Group 4's Port Phillip Prison?

* Why are the most important parts of the prison management contract - the Operating manual, Interface plan and all monitoring documents - still secret and deemed to be commercially confidential?

George Drinken is the second person this year to die in private prison custody while on remand. Cheryl Black died at the Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre on 28 March 1997. There have also been a number of suicides and attempted suicides in police cells in the past 18 months. The use of police custody and remand clearly needs extensive re-examination, given Victorian Police's use of "zero tolerance" - saturation style policing reliant on the use of police and remand custody. This is producing exploding numbers of predominantly young people in police and juvenile justice custody. Additionally, the increasing over representation in custody of people wuth intellectual and psychiatric disabilities compounded by savage Legal Aid cuts is indicative of the misuse of the remand function. Furthermore Corrective Services' decision to move remandees from the Melbourne Remand Centre to 'D division' at the Metropolitan Reception Centre earlier this year is further evidence of a Government unable and unwilling to manage remand prisons in humane and safe facilities. Port Phillip private prison has only been receiving prisoners for six weeks and already there has been one death in custody and numerous reports of non-fatal overdoses and horrific stories about levels of violence occurring within the prison. It is critical that information regarding this death in custody and ongoing issues within Port Phillip Prison is not allowed to be buried or normalised by the State Government.

posted on behalf of People's Justice Alliance and Prisoner's Action Group

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