Action at Fairlea Women's Prison

May 29, 1996

By Kim Linden

MELBOURNE — A "wringout" for Fairlea Women's Prison at Fairfield on May 19 was a resounding demonstration of solidarity with the women imprisoned there and against the scheduled replacement of Fairlea by a private prison.

The organisers, the Women and Imprisonment Group, say that around 2000 people attended. The action involved encircling of the prison by demonstrators, who hummed a chant or voiced support for the women on the inside while holding hands or linking arms.

The "wringout" symbolises putting the squeeze on the corrections system.

Demonstrators also heard speakers including Catherine Gow from the People's Justice Alliance, Amanda George from the Women and Imprisonment Group and ex-prisoner at Fairlea and Margaret Gardiner from the Native Title Unit. There were also great performances from Ruby Hunter, Tiddas, Bidngi Birds and the Plastered Bastard Sisters. The event was chaired by Karen Taylor from Flatout, a women ex-prisoner's crisis accommodation centre at Collingwood.

Fairlea is due to be replaced in July by a private prison at Deer Park, which is not accessible by public transport and is an electronic zoo with 24-hour camera surveillance in one third of the cells, electronically controlled doors and a caged-in exercise area.

Kate Lawrence of the Federation of Community Legal Centres said, "It is totally inappropriate that women be subject to these conditions given that 80% are inside for property-related offences, a large proportion are under 29 years, something like 85% are survivors of physical and sexual abuse and over 14% are Aboriginal women although they are only 0.3% of the general population."

The Women and Imprisonment Group also released a report on May 19 which shows the over-prescription by the Office of Corrections of potentially fatal drugs to women in prison. The report is based on figures from the Department of Health and Community Services medical centre at Fairlea prison and shows overuse of psychotropic drugs, such as Largactil, and tranquillisers such as Serapax, Mogodon and Valium: 365 drugs are dispensed daily to 87 women prisoners out of a total of 110 in Fairlea.

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