State prison under siege

Dramatic: The main guard tower and entrance to Risdon Prison, where 10 inmates took four hostages, including a prison officer, about 2.45pm yesterday.(1/4)Prison Action Reform president Caroline Dean and five members of the group were in mobile phone contact with the inmates during the siege.

She said the hostage-takers were very serious.

“The prison officer’s hand is on the table and if their demands are not met his fingers will be cut off. These guys don’t muck around,” Ms Dean said.

The hostage drama unfolded at 2.45 pm in the reception area of the maximum security jail that houses Australia’s worst mass murder, Martin Bryant.

The prisoners are demanding the resignation of Attorney- General Judy Jackson and the state’s Director of Prisons Graeme Barber and demanded Opposition justice spokesman Michael Hodgman attend the prison.

They are demanding improvements in their living conditions, an end to alleged human rights abuses in the prison, an end to overcrowding and implementation of rehabilitation programmes. Authorities refused to allow members of PAR or ex-prisoner Tony Bull, who was also in contact with the inmates, to join in the negotiations.

At a press conference, Mr Barber said that the custodial officer was safe and had spoken with negotiators several times, and appeared in good spirits.

Mr Barber confirmed that 19 prisoners were involved in the incident.

He said that medication had also been provided from the prison hospital for a number of prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions, while an earlier demand for food was met about 9pm.

Mrs Dean said inmates claimed other prisoners in the main yard had been hosed down in near-freezing conditions to get them back to their cells.

Government spokesman David Nicholson could not confirm the action.

Earlier in the afternoon, a prisoner calling himself Conway Richardson called the ABC claiming he was with the inmates who had taken over the jail, and outlining their demands.

He also asked for Opposition justice spokesman Michael Hodgman to attend the jail.

Mr Hodgman last night said he would not be attending Risdon Prison unless asked by those involved in attempting to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the stand-off.

Mr Hodgman called on inmates involved in the siege to release their hostages and cooperate fully with the police and prison service negotiators and then resume discussion about their conditions.

The drama follows an incident last week in which a prison officer was stabbed in the neck and ear with a narrow piece of wood and one in which an inmate was held hostage by another prisoner for more than seven hours in the top floor of Division 8.

Professional criminologist Rob White, of the University of Tasmania, said the prison’s overcrowded conditions and lack of rehabilitation programmes had created a “powder keg” waiting to explode.

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