Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A veil of secrecy makes justice in jail a different kind from court justice

By Bernie Matthews - posted Friday, 4 April 2003

Although Queensland courts mete out justice, that justice ends at the gates of the Queensland prisons system where a bureaucratic and politically expedient doctrine of "out of sight - out of mind" takes control.

Scott Lawrence Topping, 22, was serving time for $1200 worth of unpaid traffic fines when he was raped and murdered inside Woodford Correctional Centre, Queensland, on 12 September 1997. Topping had three weeks left to serve before his release. Another fine defaulter, Linda Jane Baker, 28, was found hanged in her cell at Townsville Jail on September 9, 1999. She had been serving 11 days for failing to pay an unlicensed driving fine.

Circumstances surrounding the unnatural deaths of Topping and Baker are symptomatic of the secrecy that envelops the Queensland prison system. A self-serving secrecy the Queensland Department of Corrective Services has persistently fostered by applying censorship tourniquets that prevent politically sensitive information ever reaching the media. The Queensland Corrective Services Act 2000 (pdf, 805 Kb) has been specifically designed to reinforce that process by restricting the media's access to Queensland prisoners. It is those restrictive practices that have allowed the killing fields of Queensland to flourish under different governments of both political persuasions.


Lee Picton, 26, had served ten months of a 4-year sentence when he was transferred into B Block at the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre during 1999. He was released from SDL CC in a body-bag.

14 June 1999 and the stretcher went up the Spine of B Block again. The smell of death accompanies it. Word filtered down and by Lock-Up we all knew Lee Picton was dead. They found him laying on the floor of a shithouse in B6. There is an air of expectancy. An urgency. This place is like a morgue. Everyone wants to get away from it. Back to the solitude and safety of their own cells. Then they came in and locked us away. At 2.45am the noise of the screws unlocking and slamming the grates outside the cells in B6 woke me from a deep sleep.

The screws were searching for weapons or evidence. So much for the crime scene protocol. They rumbled around like a herd of elephants playing Sherlock Holmes. And then the collective punishments began. All prisoners in B6 were placed on Section 39. One set of clothes. Only bare essentials. The Squad came in decked out in their Ninja Turtle suits expecting trouble as they began strip-searches and cell ramps. The result of another unnatural death in B Block. (Extract from personal diary notes smuggled out of the Queensland prison system).

SDL CC has the highest prisoner-mortality rate for unnatural deaths of any Australian maximum-security prison. It is the new-age gladiator's school of survival where more than 28 prisoners have died unnatural deaths during the past decade. It is a place where young prisoners have learned that murder and heroin addiction are accepted norms of prison life because the people who run the system have become immune from outside scrutiny.

SDL CC is the place where David Smith, 21, begged prison guards to place him in protective custody on 28 September 1994 because he feared for his life. Prison guards refused Smith's request and then revealed his intentions to other prisoners. Smith's body was found a short time later in his B5 cell with multiple stab wounds. His murder remains unsolved.

Another prisoner, Wayne David Woods, 28, was already on strict Protection inside 5KA at SDL CC when he was found dead. Woods had expressed fears for his life on 23 October 1997 and was locked away in his cell during the afternoon.


The incident was recorded in the Minutes of an SDL CC Management meeting and a memo was circulated to all SDL CC staff working in the Protection Blocks: "Anyone loitering around fishbowl (the cell-block observation points) may need a counsellor i.e. fears for safety." Three days later Woods was found dead. His death was recorded as suspected suicide.

Michael James "Micky" Adams, 23, was found hanging in his B7 cell on 12 September 1997 shortly after he had received a visit from his family, which claimed he had been in good spirits. There was no indication Adams had been contemplating suicide. His death remains questionable because of the methods employed to commit murder on the inside.

Prison deaths fall into two categories - natural and unnatural death. An unnatural death can be defined as murder, suicide or drug overdose. All deaths by drug overdose and suicide by hanging remain questionable because prison murders can be staged to look like suicides or drug overdoses. The term "unnatural death" is more appropriate than the official version of suicide or drug overdose.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

An shorter version of this article was published in Walkley Magazine.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Bernie Matthews
Related Links
Feature: What sort of justice can we expect from the courts?
Queensland Department of Corrective Services
Photo of Bernie Matthews
Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy