The Alphabet Club - Saturday detention for J .....

is for 

Jika Jika

Now, this is not going to be a particularly happy post and it does not show we Victorians in a particularly good light but sometimes the truth does need to be told.

Jika Jika or H division was a high security prison within a prison - it was part of HM (Her Majesty's) Prison Pentridge which was first built in 1850 and closed in 1997.

Jika Jika was built in 1980. Here are some details about it:

"Jika Jika, opened in 1980 at a cost of 7 million Australian dollars, was a 'gaol within a gaol' maximum security section, designed to house Victoria's hardest and longest serving prisoners. It was awarded the 'Excellence in Concrete Award' by the Concrete Institute of Australia  [what?????]  before being closed, 8 years later, amidst controversy after the deaths of five prisoners in 1987.
The design of Jika Jika was based on the idea of six separate units at the end of radiating spines. The unit comprised electronic doors, closed-circuit TV and remote locking, designed to keep staff costs to a minimum and security to a maximum. The furnishings were sparse and prisoners exercised in aviary-like escape proof yards.
In 1983 four prisoners escaped from ‘escape proof’ Jika Jika. When two prison officers were disciplined in relation to the Jika Jika escape a week-long strike occurred."
After Pentridge was closed in 1997, for several months it was open to school visits - for students to see what the inside of a prison was like - and as I was still teaching then, I was lucky (?) enough to take a group of students on an excursion there.  I can tell you, it was chilling.

The two most chilling facts that I remember are these:

1. It was designed so that there was little or no direct human contact between guards and prisoners and prisoners and prisoners.  The prison guards remained in the central command centre and gave commands over the PA and opened and closed doors from there, as well.  Some prisoners were only allowed out of their cells for an hour a day.

2.  The complex was always kept at a high temperature (except for the command centre which was airconditioned), this was to keep the prisoners lethargic and thus easier to control.

To give you more of an idea of the inhumane conditions, here is an excerpt from an article in The Age containing an interview with an ex-prison chaplain.

"Hardened criminals were either broken, or made bitter and more dangerous, in the cells and labour yards of H-Division at Pentridge Prison. No one ever knew what the outcome would be. That's the way it is with our complex human nature.
I once described the place as made up of "dungeons of brutality and degradation". An exaggeration? Not from my experience of visiting that place from 1976 through to 1992, four years before it finally closed in 1996. Right throughout that time it was infamous for "the reception biff", handed out to every inmate received into the division from other parts of the prison system.
Upon being frogmarched down the ramp to H-Division, each inmate was stripped naked for a security search. Surrounded by several prison guards armed with batons, he was beaten repeatedly until he fell to the ground."You're in H-Division now, the rules outside don't apply here. Now you know who is in charge," the representatives of Her Majesty's Prison Service would say.
If the inmate responded with verbal or physical defence he would be kicked repeatedly until he looked like a broken man. But what was going on inside? Often, we did not find out until he was released back onto the streets of Melbourne.My predecessor as chaplain at Pentridge, John Brosnan, often said that the regime there "turned bike thieves into murderers". That reception biff only partly explained the conclusion he had drawn "after 30 years in the nick".
Prisoners were generally separated from one another. Certainly all were held in individual cells for most of the day. Some were only allowed one hour's exercise, others went to the labour yards from 8am until 4pm most days where, until 1976, their job was to break bluestone slabs into small stones the size of marbles.
In later years, the yards were rearranged into common areas where contact between inmates was common and the solitary isolation regime broke down. Several times, wardens turned a blind eye to extreme violence as avowed enemies were allowed to come face to face with one another - in a corridor, in a labour yard, or through the delivery of meals. Some died, others carried the scars into the later years of their lives."

As I said, not a happy post and Jika Jika division is certainly not a part of our history of which we should be proud.  But it should be acknowledged (hence this post) and hopefully, we can all learn from our past mistakes in our treatment of our fellow human beings, even those who are criminals.  Yes, they do need to face justice for their crimes but they do not need to be treated as less than human nor incarcerated like animals..

So, that is all from me this month.

If you want to learn more about The Alphabet Club please follow this link and to  see what everyone else got up to for Saturday detention this month, please follow this link.



Bea said…
You're right, not a happy post, but we as people and nations have to take hard looks at our history if we have any hope of improving our futures. At least it's closed down now.
KimM said…
Wow. The truth is told. All countries have these...thank you for enlightening us.
Tiffstitch said…
A tough post to write and hard always to tell stories that reflect badly on our own history, even without personal involvement. Thanks for writing it.
Christine M said…
That was very interesting Kaye but also awful.
Melody said…
Such a fascinating post. What a terrible place, much have had a huge impact on the school students who visited. Your blog is the BEST...always so informative.
Vickie said…
Oh Kaye. I am so disturbed. I can imagine the students' trip to Jika Jika has made very permanent lessons!!
Lesley said…
Having read your post Kaye and been horroified that such a place existed in the 1980's,I am also very well aware that my own country has much to answer for in many areas past and present.If people can learn from history and their mistakes that can only be for the good. Thank you for your enlightening post.
Any country or nation has in its history, the sad acts, events, action. After a long time to realize it and shame behind it. We must learn from history!
Heather said…
Definitely not a happy post but we have our fair share of bad prisons here in the states too. Probably even more than most countries
Stitching Noni said…
Oh my goodness.... I suspect that most jails will have a similar story.. While people need to be punished for their crimes sometimes we do go too far - and some individuals seem to enjoy doing their worst to their fellow human beings... (and other times the punishment does not go far enough - but that is another story!!)
Thank you for the rather sad but interesting post!
Hugs xx
Brigitte said…
Not a happy post at all but a very interesting one. So good to know that the facility is closed now. To know and learn about and from history is essential for everyone.

A very interesting post. My former FIL was a Prison Officer and he would have very much agreed with you. The trusted prisoners were allowed to tend to the gardens of the officers and even decorate their houses as part of the rehabilitation scheme. They loved his wife who treated them as any other workman she might have in the house. In return they saved their sweet rations for her children!

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