Australia: supermax unit in prison to hold terrorists a 'dangerous path', criminologist says

The state government will spend tens of millions of dollars on a new Supermax high-security unit at Goulburn jail in a bid to prevent those convicted of terrorism from spreading extreme views, even though Corrections’ own figures show only about five inmates had been radicalised over the past decade. And Australian National University criminologist Clarke Jones said the total isolation of inmates in the so-called Supermax II would be counterproductive because it would remove any chance of rehabilitation, especially for young prisoners. It would also foster a belief in certain communities that the world was against them.

“The outcomes will be worse. And even from an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I think it is a dangerous path.” Dr Jones, a counter-terrorism expert, said the likelihood of radicalisation spreading within jails was very low because those convicted of terrorism were at the bottom of the inmate-imposed pecking order and, if they needed to be separated, it was often to protect them from the rest of the prison population.

But days after the government announced a tightening of parole laws for those convicted of terrorism or on terror-related charges, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was important to increase the capacity of maximum security at Goulburn to isolate prisoners who were likely to spread radicalisation. “We are in new territory. The instances of terrorism activity we have seen across Australia and around the world has been unprecedented in modern times and we need to react to that in the most comprehensive way,” she said. “We will be making sure we have the toughest position in the nation to reducing or eliminating terrorism activity.”

The government will shell out $47 million over the next three years to build a 54-bed high-security unit, and boost the “operational capacity” of the existing Supermax at Goulburn from 45 to 75 prisoners.

Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said only about five inmates within the NSW prison system had been radicalised over the past decade but “what we need to do is ensure that it remains that way”. “It is a belief, it’s a philosophy that gets people to commit crime. That is the dilemma we are facing,” he said.

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