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Inmates seize part of Risdon prison
A TENSE stand-off was continuing early this morning inside Hobart's Risdon Prison, where a group of inmates was holed up in an accommodation unit after overpowering a guard.

Up to 28 prisoners took control of Division 4 accommodation unit at 10am yesterday after several inmates struggled with a female guard and stole her keys.

Director of Corrective Services Peter Hoult said the guard managed to escape uninjured.

The rest of the prison was locked down and the group posed no risk to other staff or inmates.

He said the Tasmania Prison Service Tactical Response group was on stand-by at the prison.

The latest incident comes less than a year after a siege in which a prison officer at the maximum security jail was taken hostage.

The jail also holds gunman Martin Bryant, who killed 35 people at Port Arthur almost 10 years ago.

A spokesman for Corrective Services said negotiations were continuing.

"Negotiations are being done by custodial officers at the prison ... people who generally work with the prisoners day to day," he said.

"They're (the inmates) in their division ... which is in their accommodation area, which is Division 4," he said.

"All that they've got with them are the contents of their cells."

"I believe they have asked for some takeaway food, I think it was pizza."

He said Corrective Services still had no idea what had motivated the stand-off.

"We have no indication at this stage to what is driving it," he said.

"It has been non-violent. The report I have had is that the inmates are standing around not doing very much."

Tony Bull, a former prisoner at Risdon prison said inmates have been forced to take the drastic action because of substandard conditions.

Mr Bull, released from Division 4 earlier this year, said a lack of rehabilitation opportunities, substandard conditions and prisoner mistreatment had forced inmates to act.

"You have to understand how badly these guys are being treated," he said.

The ringleader of last year's siege, Conway Wayne Richardson, was jailed for three years in February this year.

Richardson pleaded guilty to assault and unlawfully destroying property.

A group of inmates kept prison officer Ken Hannah hostage for 33 hours because they were dissatisfied with conditions in the jail.

They eventually agreed to release him in exchange for pizza.

They caused $65,000 damage to the reception area of the jail during the standoff.

Risdon Prison 'an ongoing headache'

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.

Charred, dark, smelly and now locked down
By PHILIPPA DUNCAN 18apr06

PRISON Action Reform legal officer Greg Barns describes the conditions at Tasmania's maximum security prison as Dickensian.

Risdon Prison was built in the 1960s, modelled on an old design from America's Deep South.

Yesterday it was colder inside the prison than out.

It was dark, covered in bird faeces, littered with cigarettes and smelt like a soiled stable.

A handmade sign at the gate read "no visits today" and the prison was locked down.

It was quiet and there was no sign of inmates, who were locked behind heavy grey cell doors.

Division Four -- the site of the siege -- was still and empty, apart from the flicker of a television left on in a cell.

A bed sheet with the Australian, Aboriginal and Italian flags hung from the mezzanine floor with the words "Bronx 2006 Omerta".

An omerta is a code of silence practiced by the Mafia, a refusal to give evidence to the police about criminal activities.

A guard's office had been left a shell -- blackened and charred.

The division office had been totally trashed.

Wet blue paint had been spilled on the quadrangle that is open to the air.

It was where the 26 inmates spent Sunday night and it would have been frigid.

Mattresses had been pulled from the cells and were left stacked and shredded.

One had been set alight.

The division had been strewn with toilet paper, orange prison jumpers, papers from the guard's office and empty milk cartons and cordial bottles.

Half empty foil containers of food and plastic cups and plates had been left where the inmates had finished with them.

Table tennis and cricket bats had been left were they had been thrown.

Most of the lights had been smashed during the night.

A trolley spilled laundry bags on to the filthy concrete floor.

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