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 journey through the 'belly of the beast' - Part 1

By Bernie Matthews - posted Monday, 20 December 2004

A recent report commissioned by the Uniting Care Centre for Social Justice revealed that public safety is being put at risk by Queensland's failed prison system. The five-month independent study found jails have become nothing more than a warehousing process, where inmates are brutalised and denied rehabilitation programs before being dumped back into society. The report recommended a full-scale inquiry into the Queensland prison system

In response the Queensland Police and Corrective Services Minister, Ms Judy Spence, dismissed the damning report as unsubstantiated allegations based on interviews with ex-prisoners and the views of some service providers. Ms Spence told the Queensland media:

The report - with its questionable methodology - focuses on the rights of criminals and contains many old and recycled claims about the treatment of prisoners, which have already been independently investigated and found to be without substance.


I was one of the ex-prisoners who compiled a 40,000 word submission to that Inquiry. It was called A Journey Through the Belly of The Beast - Social Indictments Against the Queensland Prison System. It will be the responsibility of the Queensland public to determine whether my observations, not only as an ex-prisoner but also as an accredited journalist, are unsubstantiated allegations without substance or not.

The fact that the author of the Report, Ms Tamara Walsh from Queensland University of Technology’s law faculty, had been blocked by Queensland Department of Corrective Services from interviewing current serving prisoners is indicative of the secrecy that the Minister and QDCS try to perpetuate.

That secrecy is reinforced by Queensland legislation that restricts the media from having access to the prisons or its prisoners. Any information flow is sanitised by the Minister’s departmental heads before it is released to the media. Queensland journalists have to rely on departmental media handouts and press releases to report prison issues. I have never had the opportunity of receiving one of the Minister’s press releases - perhaps I am persona non grata with the department? But I do know what they don’t contain and that was the substance of my submission.

Does the Minister contend that over 30 unnatural deaths inside one of her prisons is unsubstantiated allegation? If my submission did focus on the rights of criminals in that regard I make no apology because I believe every Queensland prisoner has a right to life while serving their terms. These are not “many old and recycled claims about the treatment of prisoners, which have already been independently investigated and found to be without substance”, instead they are matters of gross incompetence that have been hidden from public view far too long.

QDCS not only failed in a duty of care to the 30 deceased prisoners but also failed in a duty of care to the families of the dead prisoners. Perhaps the Minister might like to explain to the families how they actually died in her prisons during one of her next departmental handouts to the Queensland media.

When the Queensland Minister for Police and Corrective Services, Ms Judy Spence, claimed that Queensland has a prison system second to none in the world is she “handling” the truth or telling it how it is? More importantly, are Queenslanders getting value for money, or is the prison system perpetuating the cycle of crime, prison, parole and more violent crime?


Years of incarceration have made me a successful failure. After 18 years imprisonment for crimes of violence (armed robbery) I have successfully survived the prison process in two states (NSW and QLD) but still remain an abject failure by society’s standards. I have served time for crimes I committed and I have also been twice wrongfully imprisoned for crimes I did not commit. I have gained a rare insight by travelling the incarceration process both as a guilty felon and an innocent person. Those experiences have widened my perspective of the criminal justice system.

Like most ex-prisoners I have been tagged, bagged and neatly compartmentalised as a convicted felon whose views and observations are irrelevant or inconsequential but my observations are the raw material that may assist with an understanding of a process that is shrouded from public view because it serves no useful purpose to society. When Norman Mailer published the prison letters of Jack Abbott in the US he called his work In the Belly of the Beast. It is my intention to take the reader on a journey through the belly of the beast so the formulation of prison policies can be appreciated from the perspective of a prisoner and an ex-prisoner.

Here is an edited version of my submission. 

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

This is an edited extract of a submission to the Uniting Care Centre for Social Justice on the Queensland Prison system. This is the first part in a three part series. Part two can be found here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

11 posts 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
Photo of Bernie Matthews
Article Tools
Comment 11 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy