The Guardian 16 February, 2005

Another tale of prison neglect

A prisoner once known as "Badness" and described as NSW's most dangerous prisoner walked out of Goulburn Maximum Security Jail last week. He had just completed a six-year sentence for armed robbery and spent 13 years behind bars altogether. He had attempted to escape seven times and would only be allowed contact visits if he was bound with handcuffs and leg-irons.

In one sense Christopher Binse's story is typical of those imprisoned in Goulburn's "super-max" complex. He was 17 when he first went to Pentridge Prison. He was born into an impoverished family with warring parents. His childhood anger led to a lifestyle that would see him wind up in jail.

But something happened inside the inmate's head before his release. In response to the brutalising treatment he received in prison, he decided to commit himself to the cause of prison reform. However, Mr Binse is the first to recognise that most former inmates from Australia's maximum security prisons do not come out motivated to improve their communities.

"I was denied parole on at least four occasions because I was allegedly 'too dangerous'. Yet they release me with no housing or job. Do they want me to re-offend? ... Almost $1 million has been spent on locking me up. What a waste. Why can't this money be used to work with prisoners through mentoring, work and education programs to achieve better results for prisoners, their families and the wider community?" said Mr Binse.

Before his release, Mr Binse conducted a survey of his fellow inmates in C-Wing. It found that prisoners have little access to education or rehabilitation services, they have inadequate clothing to cope with Goulburn's freezing winters, they receive scant pre or post-release counselling.

NSW Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon presented the survey to Justice Minister John Hatzistergos last December and demanded in Parliament that the government bring its maximum security prison into line with UN standards. The Minister rejected the call and focused much of his reply on Mr Binse's criminal record.

Kilty O'Gorman of advocacy group Justice Action has backed Mr Binse's demands: "Rehabilitation and community support is crucial to breaking the cycle of offending. The re-offending rate can be lowered if prisoners have access to appropriate job opportunities, housing, and support systems upon release."

In the meantime, Mr Binse has sought a meeting with Premier Bob Carr and Justice Minister to offer the benefit of his experience to improve the prison system.

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