Australia’s newest maximum security prison has no cells and inmates can make late night telephone calls or watch their own touch-screen televisions – but they are under extreme scrutiny.
This is the Hunter Correctional Centre (HCC), north of Sydney, and jail authorities believe it may be the future of rehabilitating some of our worst murderers, rapists and career criminals.
While the prison’s 400 male inmates have privileges not found in other maximum security facilities, they all work and undergo education programs, readying them for life outside.
They are also under some of the most intense surveillance of any prison in the country and an elite armed immediate action team is stationed within the facility providing a constant response capability for any incident.
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What may surprise anyone questioning this new prison model is that in the first six months of Hunter Correctional Centre’s operation, there has not be a single assault upon any of the 220 staff.
There have been no deaths in custody, no escapes, only one self-harm incident and assaults on inmates are way down when compared with other maximum security centres.
HCC is one of two rapid-build prisons in New South Wales, following the opening of Macquarie Correctional Centre at Wellington in the state’s central west in December.
Daily Mail Australia was this week granted exclusive access to the HCC and found a facility where inmates seemed as positive about the experiment as their jailers and other civilian staff.
The aim of the rapid-build prison is ‘to achieve as close to 100 per cent engagement of inmates in employment, life skills, education and programs to address their offending behaviour,’ a Corrective Services spokeswoman said.
As well as working for five hours a day – for a $65 a week pay cheque – inmates have up to three hours for activities including access to the oval, running track, library and a multi-faith chapel.
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‘Charlie’ is a 25-year-old offender who still has to serve at least 12 years of his sentence and has been at HCC since March. He has previously spent time at the maximum security Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater, Lithgow, Parklea and Long Bay jails.
‘I’d like to stay here,’ Charlie says.
‘As far as jail goes for a maximum security inmate this is as good as I’ve seen it.’
Hunter Correctional Centre was built in just 12 months and opened on January 30.
Its design features four wings, each with four dormitories – or ‘pods’ – housing 25 inmates in office-sized cubicles. Each cubicle has a desk, chair, mattress and a 60cm interactive television.
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Rugby league emblems are popular and many inmates use a rolled up towel on the floor to mark their cubicle’s imaginary ‘door’.
The touch-screen TV has all free-to-air channels, as well as movies, radio and a ‘kiosk’ where inmates can monitor their prison accounts and phone balances.
There are two telephones which can be used for 10-minute paid calls from 6am to 9pm and a kitchen with two microwave ovens, two fridges, one commercial toaster, a hot water urn and toasted sandwich press, bolted down.
Each pod has eight bathroom cubicles which contain a toilet, sink and shower. Only one inmate is allowed in the cubicle at any time, allowing for greater privacy and security.
There is a panic button inside the cubicle and an alarm system is activated if more than one person enters the bathroom or if an inmate spends too long inside.
While the security arrangements for accommodation differ from other maximum security prisons, the outside perimeter appears traditional, if more technologically advanced.
Two 5.1m anti-climb fences are separated by a sterile zone which is monitored by a visual motion detection system incorporating infra-red cameras which make night appear almost like day.
There are more than 600 CCTV cameras watching over the entire prison with the capacity to zoom in so close the operators can read newsprint in an inmate’s hands.
The pods are overlooked by a mezzanine walkway which is patrolled by officers including members of the immediate action team who are armed with gas-shooting guns.
Credits: Daily Mail