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How maximum-security jails make the baddest of men even worse

By Bernie Matthews - posted Wednesday, 5 November 2003

I heard voices from the Gatehouse. The clicking of handcuff ratchets. The noise heralded the arrival of the transfer escort. I looked around my cell for the last time. Two coir mats stood at attention against the back wall. My bed since the summer of '71 after I was transferred to Grafton as an intractable prisoner.

Plastic containers for jam and salt nestled in their allocated positions on the timber log I used for a table. Spartan conditions made every item special. Each had their very own place in the regimented confines of the cell. Even the toilet paper and library books had significant places. I tried to remember how many times I copped a serve for having one item out of the designated place before I learned the routine - countless times. Grafton floggings were routine and didn’t require a reason. Everything at Grafton was routine. A mindless never-ending routine of isolation and solitary confinement that was punctuated by a screw’s baton, boot or a fist. The prison system called it &quotrehabilitation".

My thoughts drifted back to ‘72 when Apps forgot about the two cigarette butts he left in his shirt pocket. Contraband. The Breed, Footballer and Brown &quotrehabilitated" him by baton-whipping him unconscious before dragging his bloodied body into the solitary-confinement cell to recuperate. Not to be left out, The White Alsatian &quotrehabilitated" Mitchell for having a button undone.


It seemed strange that on the eve of my departure from Grafton the memory of previous floggings were rekindled. The two things synonymous with HM Grafton Jail were solitary confinement and institutionalised brutality. If any benefit can be derived from solitary confinement it is the fact that memories never fade.

Memories of solitary confinement inside a brutalising prison system never faded for James Richard Finch or John Andrew Stuart. Both men endured the rehabilitation concept that was Grafton Jail during the 1960s. Queensland suffered the consequences of that incarceration concept when Brisbane’s Whisky Au-Go-Go nightclub was firebombed in March 1973. Stuart and Finch were convicted of the firebombing and the subsequent deaths of 15 people. It is simplistic to suggest that Grafton propelled Stuart and Finch into a life of crime that culminated with the deaths of 15 people but an incarceration process that moulds destinies steeped in violence and solitary confinement must share proportionate blame if the following case histories are indicative of what isolation and solitary confinement does produce.

Stan Taylor was a product of H Division inside Pentridge during the 1970s where solitary confinement was a blissful respite from the mindless and institutionalised brutality meted out by prison guards. Taylor was eventually released from prison only to end his criminal career with the 1986 car-bomb attack on Russell Street Police Headquarters in Melbourne where a young police constable was blown to pieces. Taylor was convicted with two other men for the Russell Street bombing and is currently serving a life sentence.

While Taylor was incarcerated in H Division another young prisoner was introduced to the rehabilitative qualities of isolation by solitary confinement. After ten years, Christopher Dale Flannery was released from prison to earn a reputation as Australia’s first contract killer with over a dozen murders to his credit. Flannery disappeared during the 1985 Sydney underworld gang wars. He is presumed dead.

Solitary confinement and the Grafton rehabilitation concept were significant factors in the life of Kevin Crump who teamed up with Alan Baker after his release from prison in 1973. The pair kidnapped a pregnant Colarenabri grazier’s wife and took her into Queensland where they raped and butchered her at Goondiwindi. After they were captured at Maitland the pair were charged with conspiracy to murder under NSW law. Details of the atrocities committed on the victim before her death, although never made public, prompted Mr Justice Taylor to recommend the pair never be released from prison after he sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Archie McCafferty was a non-violent offender who traveled the well-worn paths of the NSW juvenile/justice system during the 1960s before he was sent to Grafton for "rehabilitation" during 1970. McCafferty was released from prison in 1971 and barely one year later he became Australia's answer to Charlie Manson with a spate of thrill killings throughout NSW. McCafferty was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment and served 23 years before he was deported to Scotland in May 1997.


Peter Schneidas was another non-violent offender prior to the Grafton rehabilitation process. Originally imprisoned for fraud, Schneidas was transferred to Grafton in 1975. Four years later he attacked Long Bay prison guard, John Mewburn, and pulverised his head with hammer. Mewburn died from his injuries and Schneidas was sentenced to life imprisonment. Schneidas was isolated in solitary confinement within the NSW prison system for the next ten years and died eight months after his 1997 release from a heroin overdose after becoming addicted in prison.

Although the incarceration concepts of H Division and Grafton have been dismantled and roundly condemned during Royal Commissions and public inquiries the products of those places are still being convicted for what some consider to be the worst violent crimes ever committed in this country.

The NSW and Victorian prison systems have already travelled the retributive road to the community's detriment. Will history continue to repeat itself in Queensland? If the October 27, 2003 edition of Australian Story on ABC television is any gauge then Queensland is already destined to suffer the consequences of an incarceration process that makes bad men badder and mad men madder.

Australian Story depicted the isolation, solitary confinement and sensory deprivation of Postcard Bandit, Brenden James Abbott, inside Queensland’s Maximum Security Units. The incarceration process of solitary confinement in a jail within a jail is indicative of the hate factories created by places like Grafton, H Division, Katingal Special Security Unit and Jika Jika. Punishment blocks that became counter productive to the society they were supposed to serve until they were dismantled by the NSW and Victorian governments.

Queensland legislators have ignored those failings and opted to adopt hard-line incarceration policies similar to the ones imposed upon Brenden Abbott after he escaped the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre in November 1997 but are those policies beneficial to the general community and future generations of Queenslanders?

The observations of a 20th century troglodyte who lived life as a successful failure on the prison yards of NSW and Queensland would suggest not. I idly ponder who will be the Stuart, Finch, Taylor, Flannery, Crump, McCafferty or Schneidas of Queensland’s tomorrow if the current Queensland incarceration process of solitary confinement by sensory deprivation persists.

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An edited version of this article was published in The Courier-Mail on 29 October 2003.

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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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New South Wales Department of Corrective Services
Queensland Department of Corrective Services
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