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The shroud of secrecy in Queensland prisons

By Bernie Matthews - posted Thursday, 30 June 2005

Over two years ago On Line Opinion published an article by me which concerned the official secrecy that has shrouded unsolved murders committed inside Queensland’s Sir David Longland Correctional Centre and how the Queensland Department of Corrective Services had used existing legislation to prevent the news media having access to the prison system as part of an official cover-up.

The report, “A veil of secrecy makes justice in jail a different kind from court justice,” (posted Friday, April 4, 2003), described how David Smith, 21, begged prison guards to place him in protective custody on September 28, 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 remained unsolved.

The report also described the “questionable death” of Michael James “Micky” Adams, 23, who was found hanging in his B7 cell on September 12, 1997 shortly after he had received a visit from his family, who claimed he had been in good spirits. There was no indication Adams had been contemplating suicide. His death remained questionable because of the methods employed to commit murder inside the place the prisoners call the killing fields of Queensland.


That 2003 On Line Opinion report went on to describe how prison murders were made to look like suicide inside the killing fields:

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.

The “sleeper hold”, which cuts off blood to the brain by exerting pressure on the carotid artery, is a legacy that resulted from practices employed by guards to control unruly children in Queensland juvenile institutions.

The products of state-run juvenile institutions carried the practice into the adult prison system where it is now used as a weapon for murder - a technique employed to render victims helpless before they are strung up to give the appearance of suicide by hanging.

A shorter version of that On Line Opinion report was also published in a 2003 edition of The Walkley magazine but despite that coverage, the QDCS remained a law unto itself and continued to deny media access to its prisons. Without transparency the cover-ups continued.

During May 2004 On Line Opinion published two more articles by me: “Abu Ghraib one day, Queensland the next” and “Abuse in prisons makes prisoners more violent upon release”, in which the Queensland prison system was again placed under the spotlight in the electronic media. The reports described how cover-ups and the denial of media access to Queensland prisons had contributed to a violent environment comparable to the atrocities committed by American army personnel inside Abu Ghraib military prison. (“Abuse in prisons makes prisoners more violent upon release” was the category winner in Best On Line News Wire Report - Electronic Media at the 2004 Queensland Media Awards.)


It was ironical that when the founder of an advocacy service for women prisoners, called Sisters Inside, used the same comparison, between Abu Ghraib and the Wolston Women’s Prison at Wacol, to explain the conditions women prisoners were forced to undergo as part of their incarceration and also the scandal surrounding Cornelia Rau's detention, QDCS banned the organisation from its prisons.

Debbie Kilroy, the founder of Sisters Inside, had been awarded an Order of Australia for her contribution to the advocacy and re-socialisation of women prisoners in Queensland, but despite those achievements, QDCS was determined to maintain the secrecy that surrounds its prisons and bristled at any criticism of that secrecy.

The October 8, 2003 murder of Mark Day inside the maximum security unit at Sir David Longland Correctional Centre (SDLCC) drew unwanted media attention to the place prisoners call the killing fields of Queensland.

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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.

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