We don’t call it solitary confinement – Director of Prisons Tasmania

Following reports (here and here) that Sue Neill-Fraser had been placed in solitary confinement as the first part of her punishment for writing a letter about prison life that we published, Independent Member for Clark, Kristie Johnston (criminologist & lawyer), in the budget estimates Committee hearing asked the Attorney-General about it. Luckily, the Director of Prisons was also present …it went like this:

Budget Estimates A-G Archer Wednesday 8 September 2021 – House of Assembly Estimates Committee B pp59-60-15 Daily Hansard

Kristie Johnston MP

Ms JOHNSTON – This is the first time I have had the opportunity to ask questions. It is certainly not the experience I have had in the other committee. I have two questions. The first question is that research shows that that solitary confinement has many serious negative, physical and mental health impacts on inmates. Do you agree that solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool should be used as a last resort and that other disciplinary tools should be preferred?

Ms ARCHER – We don’t have solitary confinement in our prisons. Director of Prisons, we don’t have solitary confinement, do we?


Ms O’CONNOR – What do you call it?

Members interjecting.

Ms ARCHER – We need to define what it is you’re talking about because we don’t have solitary confinement.

Mr THOMAS – Solitary confinement does not exist in our prisons. We do separate prisoners from other prisoners and we minimise or control their access to other prisoners; their engagement to other prisoners and staff, depending on their behaviour but we don’t use the term ‘solitary confinement’. and we don’t consider that we use it. Prisoners are separated by units, by cohorts, by classification but even if they’re in the most restrictive of regimes they won’t be in what I would term ‘solitary confinement’. They will get access to the open air, they will get access to services such as health visits, programs, et cetera, maybe in a more controlled way than those in less secure settings but they’re not confined in what I would recognise as solitary confinement.

Ms JOHNSTON – Would you accept that in ‘separation’, like you described, restricted in terms of access and programs should be a last resort?

Ms ARCHER – My understanding is that it is only the situation for the various reasons the Director has mentioned. If there has been a breach of protocol or procedure by that particular prisoner there will be certain restrictions imposed. Prisoner behaviour is another reason that the Director just addressed. Sometimes, there is a need to separate certain prisoners. There may have been an assault situation and for obvious reasons you separate. If a prisoner also breaches clear protocols within the prison that may be the result. Of course, it needs to be something that is a last resort situation in that type of circumstance but nor can we take away the right operationally – I don’t deal with operational matters but the Director does, as do his delegates – from being able to decide what needs to happen in any given particular case.

“A last resort situation…” does not seem at all appropriate a description for Sue Neill-Fraser’s letter writing transgression which led to her being ‘separated’ … The question of proportionality remains; and will she now be placed in maximum security, with its attendant restrictions? To a reasonable person, it seems to be a vindictive punishment. 

Prisons Director Thomas makes it sound like a pleasant break from the madding crowd of prison life, where prisoners are ‘separated’ from the others. 

We’re glad that Ms Johnston put the question, as it has elicited revealing answers. Andrew L. Urban

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23 Responses to We don’t call it solitary confinement – Director of Prisons Tasmania

  1. Diane Kemp says:

    If there is no solitary confinement in Risdon Prison in Tasmania,, one has to wonder then where is Sue??? Whatever, the ‘punishment’ that has been exacted far outweighs the supposed crime (I say supposed because how can you be aware of what you are not aware of). This whole false case against Sue continues to unravel demonstrated by those now speaking out to try to support the conviction – difficult to do with a imaginary weapon, no evidence apart from innuendo and withheld information. The time is approaching when those who have perpetrated and orchestrated this miscarriage of justice will be held accountable.
    Until then, we will continue to speak out about this unjust system in Tasmania. Veiled threats will not stop us.
    Stay strong Sue.

  2. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Clive, curious to know what you mean when you say, “…fully aware of their need to speak up, before it gets too far”.
    Do you mean what I am thinking you mean? Like the truth being exposed!
    I am appalled to think that you would, with respect to Andrew, think he was “interjecting” on my behalf. Your rebuttal leaves much to be desired.
    Furthermore, you assume that I am “ …taking this too seriously”.
    Allow me to say in all fairness, this IS serious.
    When anyone can have their freedom stolen from them, think about it. Could even happen to you. That’s when you would understand why wrongful convictions being reported is such an essential medium of democracy.
    All I have to say is, chill out man. I have more serious things to consider in life than having non transparent discussions with a post going by the name of Clive.
    However, it may benefit you if you were to direct your ‘butt out’ anger verbiage towards those who talk dribble in order to impress and encourage other sycophants.
    Do yourself a wonderful favour and read up on “The Human Condition”.
    Also, I think you’re influenced by to many movies of the past, great as they were. Guantanamo Bay detention camp and Belmarsh Prison, do they sound familiar. Are they also to be envisaged as just contemporary screen movie sets? Hope your wait for my reply has been satisfying and nourishing! 🥸

    • Peter Leslie Martin says:

      I googled “Risdon Prison Solitary Confinement” and there are numerous entries from Wikipedia to Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP questioning Ms Archer and Mr Thomas in parliament on 25 November 2020. The term “Solitary Confinement” is used without objection or qualification throughout. Interesting that it now is not an acceptable term.

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    If Sue is not NOT in solitary confinement, because we don’t have it, then she is nowhere. Which just about sums up her current position!

    • owen allen says:

      Good thinking Robin. Makes me think I have been no where since December 1990 when we got off the boat.
      And before it docked I was thinking, what are we coming to?
      I have been in a bad dream; reality in Australia is not like this.
      Snap out of it, wake up, [ “its different down here”, ” we don’t like change”,
      So said an Old Boys Club Member.]
      30 years later I am still nowhere. metaphorically, [ I am blessed to be in Northern Rivers. Beaut country, beaut climate. But my life is dedicated to Tasmania. ex pat Kiwi.] The fight I mean has controlled my life, I can not give it up. I can not quit.
      But I too am confident like Geraldine and will never give up, and Helen and Noeline thank you for staying on it and giving voice and everybody who contributes positively.
      This is not just about Sue, its about all Tasmanians, but Sue needs to be released ASAP.

  4. owen allen says:

    Excellent work from the Independent Member for Clark.

  5. owen allen says:

    A favourite saying of Mr R McDonald.

    Tasmanian Establishment.

    They are so arrogant, they do not even know they are ignorant.

  6. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Rest assured everyone, no one more than those who support Sue who would want to rip into those who transitioned Sue out of minimum security for reasons that cannot be fully or properly explained.
    Okay, it’s the prison system, so do we have to wait for a public inquiry to expose this and maybe other such treatments and if so, what will that say about the decent staff at this workplace who want to work with Sue by recognising she is a human being.
    I am aware that Sue still gets phone calls and visitors however, that does not excuse what her family has to contend with by her placement in maximum security, confined to a harsher area of the prison for daring to write her notes and forward them to someone she knows will cause no risk to the security of the women’s minimum security correctional centre in Tasmania.
    We also may not wish to accept the interpretation of what the prison delegate told the parliamentary hearing when covering for the minister in defining “solitary confinement”, and rightfully so.
    The reasons given for his garble appears to have sounded like unwarranted treatment for, in this case, Sue and so the whole system immediately comes under grave suspicion of malicious intervention from some area of authority in the justice system, under the watch of the Attorneys General and needs to be quickly corrected.
    We now know that Sue’s incarceration as well as her conviction is being widely monitored and with the Etter/Selby papers having been tabled in the Parliament we must do all that is possible, as we have been doing, by peaceful means, to have this sham cleaned up sooner rather than later.
    The very unprofessional conduct of the Police Commissioner and the Police Association has also been noted as just that, unprofessional.
    Such actions I have no doubt will give greater impetus to calls for a CCRC and we should be grateful that nothing can reverse what was said. I can only describe it as having been grossly improper public vitriol.

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      Jerry, my view is that the spot fire has now become a bushfire.
      The reasons given to Sue for her “punishment”, don’t pass the pub-test, in my view.

      A broader public inquiry to investigate and report on the associated misconduct relevant to the entire DoJ and TASPOL is well overdue.

      I’m aware of some staff at Risdon prison who, over the years, have worked with Sue, together with former inmates, have abundant praise for her. She is, or at least was until ‘punished’, a considerable help to staff.

      Besides, if the criminal justice system including but not limited to Risdon prison, continues its failure to recognise Sue as a human-being entitled to human rights, it’s well past time to don our ‘mongrel’ boots. I’m meaning louder indication of refusal to watch on as Sue and/or her supporters, receive lesser value treatment/respect than that afforded the ‘intentionally bred’ species. We mutts will not tolerate being disregarded; we’ve developed into an efficient hunting species.

      In doggy world, studies have shown that on average, mixed breeds are both healthier and longer-lived than their purebred relations. That’s how I see SNF sympathisers, in there for the long haul; until we get there. That will happen despite TASPOL together with the criminal justice systems’ prolonging and making our efforts difficult. We are not quitters; quitters don’t win …

      According to HANSARD, the Attorney-General (AG) and, Director of Prisons (DoP), there is no solitary confinement at Risdon; weasel words, to avoid allegations of breaching Human Rights obligations.

      FACT — Sue has been punished for a minor breach of rules, about which she was unaware. To my thinking that is evidence of covert malice. Your term is “garble”; mine is weasel words. Either/or, we both mean the same thing.

      After Mike Gaffney MLC tabled the Etter/Selby papers in the Legislative Council, and they became publicly available, that was when the spot fires became a bushfire.

      It goes without saying that “we must do all that is possible, as we have been doing, by peaceful means …”. History shows, that revolutions happen when valid peaceful means are ignored. I vividly recall my (now decd) husband opining decades ago re the Tasmanian Department of Justice (DoJ) system that “nothing will change until there’s a revolution”. Now, he was a peaceful, law-abiding, ethical man, yet even then he observed that the ‘ordinary citizens’, mutts, peasants — however the hierarchy regards us, were being unjustifiably overruled by the ‘purebred’ executives, who at times resorted to criminal actions to silence their critics.

      BTW — when was the last time we saw a Tasmanian executive or police-officer, charged with perverting justice? It doesn’t happen. Robin Bowles, multi-published crime writer, I suggest good fodder for your next project.

      The unprofessional conduct of the Police Commissioner and the Police Association, to which you refer, is astounding. I’m still picking my jaw up from below knee-level.

      I wrote a few weeks ago — I was feeling angry. For this record that hasn’t changed.

      • Helen Adkins-Sherston says:

        hello Geraldine

        Information for you and Andrew that my late uncle forty odd years ago was the Attorney-General for this State and he chose to select a Police Commissioner from the ACT due to corruption here.
        My uncle would be rolling in his grave at the injustice by the Taspol here for SNF.
        Perhaps we should consider an Innocents Project to be pursued

        • Geraldine Allan says:

          Thx Helen. Wise Uncle there.

          Having been around then — dealing with Executive government from late 1982 onwards > for decades, corruption certainly alive and well. I became aware of it in the late 1970’s from my personal experience.

          It would be either — Brian Miller, Max Bingham, Geoff Pearsall or John Bennett.
          I remember them all.

          Since those days the only changes that have happened is the fresh coats of paint on the bumpy wall. The nail polish on the hang-nail stuff; a bit of nail polish on it doesn’t straighten the bent hangnail.

      • Peter Gill says:

        Geraldine – if you google Todd Apted, you will find that the last time a Tasmanian policeman was charged with perverting the course of justice was earlier this year, about 4 months ago.

        I’d skipped reading Sue’s A Day in the Life until the authorities reacted, so I read it today. I thought it was a well-written positive letter about a well-run prison. Nice to see something positive among all the negativity coming from police and legal spokespersons in Tasmania, even if the positive material came from behind bars.

    • Clive says:

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      • andrew says:

        Clive claims that Jerry is taking this ‘too seriously’. He makes the point that Sue broke the rules (by sending a letter to us without permission). Sue herself accepts that. Her supporters (and us here) believe that the punishment of 5 days in solitary (whatever they call it now) followed by moving her from minimum to maximum security is a cruel and disproportionate punishment.

        We can dismiss his reference to ‘what occurred in the US on the 6th Jan’ in this context as bewildering and irrelevant.

        His final admonition that it would have been ‘more appropriate and more professional had Etter/Selby submitted their papers to Sue’s solicitor’ reveals a lack of attention to information: those papers were indeed submitted to Sue’s legal team as well, as we reported.

        • Clive says:

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          • andrew says:

            Ah well, Jerry can reply as and when he wants. I am ‘interjecting’ as the editor of this blog … it’s not a two way conversation here. Anyone can comment. Like a conversation around the kitchen table perhaps….

          • Clive says:

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  7. Noeline Durovic says:

    Andrew, In this mis-match of word drivel inference of solitary confinement not to be had in Risdon Prison according to Prison Director Thomas! We are now to believe Susan Neil Fraser was placed within and in an area of Risdon Prison for five harsh days of what may be an inappropriate restrictive practise? ‘More controlled way according to Director Thomas’ ? With further punishment of maximum prison time imposed? Which brings me to the restrictive practises placed on Susan Neil Fraser as an aged person spending her life reliant on having to be wheel chair locked in! Such harsh unreasonable punishment vindictive and overbearing is stated to cause physical and psychological harm to a person especially as so ill treated as Sue is!
    Such restriction? Rating cause as a likely breach of legal and human rights on a frail abused person!

  8. Robyn Milera says:

    A ‘rose’ by any other name.

  9. LB says:

    The Attorney General Ms Archer has put in writing that “The TPS does not make use of solitary confinement”. So who told Sue’s daughter on Saturday 4th September that her mother was being placed in solitary confinement? These muppets can’t have it both ways. If it walks like a duck and quacks….as the saying goes…call it what you like there has been a disproportionate response to a misdemeanour ! What happened to “last resort response”? I wish to add that like Rosie, we are all “getting tired” of this utterly disgraceful nonsense but that does not diminish the resolve for the whole dirty saga to be aired and rectified. Tasmania, an utter shambles.

    • Clive says:

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