By Xavier La Canna 17apr06
WHEN Tasmania's maximum-security Risdon Prison opened 46 years ago, its state of the art design and unusual hue meant it was dubbed the Pink Palace.
It was considered opulent, by the standards of the day, and was viewed as a benchmark for modern penal facilities.
But since then, the facility has turned into an ongoing headache for authorities.
Restive inmates have staged two dramatic sieges in less than a year, complaining it is overcrowded, too cold, and lacks a rehabilitation focus for its prisoners.
The inmates, most infamous of whom is mass murderer Martin Bryant serving 35 life sentences, have also demanded better food, exercise, and dental treatment.
Dr Caroline Evans, from the University of Tasmania, has written a history of Risdon Prison and says complaints are nothing new.
She says the jail's design was never well-suited to Tasmania and that it soon became known among prisoners as the "pink chicken coop" because of the crowded conditions.
"The design was meant for a warm climate like Florida. Tasmania is quite cold in the winter, and all cells open into a courtyard, so you are either in your cell or out in the cold. It is very uncomfortable," Dr Evans says.
She says some 150 prisoners rioted at the prison in October 1972.
During the unrest, prisoners demanded better food, higher wages and better access to television. At the time, tear gas was used and all prisoners were ultimately locked in their cells.
After five prisoners died in the facility in a 14-month period in the 1990s, four of whom were found hanged, an ombudsman said the facility was a "particularly unpleasant place".
"It is bleak, cold and grey and, even if a very large amount of money were to be spent on the facility, it is unlikely that it could ever conform to contemporary prison standards," the ombudsman said.
Despite the findings of the ombudsman and a separate coronial inquiry, the problems with the prison continued.
Last May, there was a 41-hour standoff in which angry inmates reportedly threatened to cut off a warder's fingers one by one if their demands for food and medicines were not met.
That dispute eventually ended peacefully when 15 pizzas were delivered to the prison.
Authorities ended the latest unrest there today by using a chemical agent to overpower inmates who orchestrated the siege, again demanding better food among other things.
A new Hobart prison is due to open in September, but Prison Action Reform Group spokesman Greg Barns says that unless management becomes more progressive, morale is unlikely to improve.