NSW Management Interns' Blog

Blog posts by NSW Management Interns of the Australasian College of Health Service management


Oscar Chaffey
Oscar Chaffey

ACHSM blog

Freedom is 5pm – A tour of Silverwater Correctional Facility

Author: Weller Zheng, 2nd Year Management Trainee at Long Bay Correctional Facility, Justice Health &Forensic Mental Health

Date: 23 May 2014

When working in the office, there are always moments when I look at the blue sky and ardently wish for liberation from my cubicle. Now that I work at the Long Bay Correctional Complex, I look outside to see inmates walking in circles on the prison yard, and I am ardently grateful that I can still go home. Such are the unexpected consolations of working beside a prison.

This feeling increased when I visited the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre (MRRC) inside the Silverwater Correctional Complex in Sydney last week. Hellal arranged a tour for me. He had been a Nurse Unit Manager at Silverwater, and was now working with me at the Justice Health headquarters at Long Bay.

On the morning, we drove to the facility through the suburban streets of Granville. We turned into what looked like an industrial park. Only the barbed wire on its high fences indicated that it was a prison. Hellal reminded me to leave my mobile phone, and all metal objects behind in the car.

Of the three facilities at Silverwater, we were inside the maximum security facility. As we walked to the reception centre, a couple of men in green tracksuits were raking leaves, and another was driving a mower. “They’re minimum security inmates from next door,” Hellal said. “They do a lot of the gardening jobs. Highly sought after work too.”

The inside of reception resembled airport security. Instead of presenting my passport, I had to get my biometric details recorded. A couple of police officers and family visitors were before us. When I stepped up, the guard conducted me to put my index finger up and down a few times onto the scanner with each hand. I looked into the sliver of mirror and a green dot appeared that I aligned into middle of my eyes by adjusting the mirror.

We were then let through the metal detector and into the first set of gates, which operated like an airlock. After all the visitors were all inside the room did the other door open. This was only a brief respite as we met a few more doors until we reached the inner sanctum. There, a Victorian era house stood inside well-manicured garden. It was the prison headquarters that housed all the executive administration.

Hellal took me to where the trucks first unloaded inmates. Between the loading yard and interior of the main jail block stood a row of three cells. The first cell had fresh inmates that were changing into their new green tracksuits. Their belongings had been downsized to a sack containing toiletries and another change of tracksuit. The second cell had inmates awaiting their health screening. The third cell was for inmates leaving to go to court or other prisons.

Right next to this was the health screening cells, which were divided into two levels. I wanted to go have a look, so Hellal introduced us to the guard and asked for his permission. It was important for our own safety that the guards knew we were inside. Security was the highest priority.

We walked into the one of the cells. They were for patients that were at the risk of committing suicide. The mattress was sprayed with a flame retardant chemical. The blanket was of a rough material that couldn’t be torn. The toilet was in an exposed corner with no seat. We had to leave the cell when a guard led an inmate inside, where he promptly lay down and pulled over his blanket.

“The health screening is the most important part to get right,” Hellal told me. “If there’s an issue here, it affects the whole facility and prison system. If a patient dies because of misdiagnosis, then that’s our fault.”

After the inmates were screened, they were moved to a cell in one of the main wings. Each wing had two levels of cells, facing a common area with tables, a microwave, fridge, ping pong table and books. Each wing was identical in these configurations and was serviced by the main clinic.

On our way to the main clinic, we passed the maximum seclusion area. High profile prisoners may be put in here, or those with real security concerns. Closer to the main clinic was a methadone dispensing unit. It was a booth with plastic windows. It was empty, but two nurses would usually sit behind the counter, check signatures and then dispense methadone in plastic cups.

Compared to the quiet of the cells, the main clinic was bustling. In some rooms a few nurses were examining patients. Other rooms were for dental, allied health and medical staff. Another room contained the office of the Drug Court program. There was also a room of new diagnostic equipment, which was purchased to save costly trips to the external laboratories. Medications were kept in another. It was a complete primary health clinic.

After viewing these health facilities, I asked Hellal if we could go see some of the other workshops where the inmates worked. We entered an electronics workshop, where rows of green tracksuits stood refurbishing airline headsets, assembling water heating units and stripping wires. Like a proud father, the guard (whose badge said prison industries) took us along each assembly step and highlighted the training opportunities and skills gained.

Having satisfied my curiosity, we took our leave of the hardworking inmates. On our way out, we had to go through all the doors again. Just as we were inside the airlock room, Hellal met the General Manager of the prison and started talking like old friends.

When the General Manager wanted to leave again, the doors had become completely locked. For those few moments, we were imprisoned: the captors had become the captured. When the doors opened again, I was grateful for my freedom to return to my cubicle, work until five o clock, and then go home.

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