Robert Hughes, the former Hey Dad! Star, ended up in prison after being convicted of the sexual assault and indecent assault of four young girls.
Back in April 2014, he was found guilty by a jury in the Downing Centre District Court.
The public gallery was full to the brim in the courtroom where Hughes was given his sentence.
The judge sentenced him to 10 years and 6 months imprisonment – with a 6 years non-parole period – predicting that he wouldn’t have an easy time in prison.
But despite the judge’s predictions, Hughes was unprepared for just how tough prison would be.
He received a less-than welcome from other inmates, who threw milk containers full of urine and faeces at him upon arrival.
Although Hughes was physically separated from the other inmates by fences, they poked their milk cartons through the railings and hurled them across towards him. Others spat at him.
On the phone to his wife, still covered in human waste, Hughes cried: “I can’t do it. This place is horrible. I thought I would be okay, but I can’t stay here. I can’t stay in Goulburn. This place is hell. You have to get me out.”
Even in summer, he wore a parka to prevent the human waste from getting on his clothes and skin.
Special protection units
Sex offenders are almost universally despised and looked down upon by other inmates, and even prison guards.
During Hughes’ ordeal, one prison guard made fun of him, laughing as Hughes cried “like a big girl,” and describing the phone conversation with his wife as “one of the funniest calls ever.”
Hughes will not be put in with the general prison population. Like other offenders who are deemed to be in need of protection, Hughes will be housed separately in a special protection unit within the prison.
He is currently in the high-risk management block of Goulburn prison, where notorious serial killer Ivan Milat is also being kept.
Prison as punishment, not for punishment
Philosophers have debated the purpose of punishment for thousands of years.
In our criminal justice system, deterring offenders and the general community away from committing crime is a major sentencing consideration.
Under the NSW system, judges have the discretion to decide a sentence that is appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
But people are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. In other words, the fact that they are deprived of their liberty is the punishment, and they are not supposed to be subjected to additional corporal punishment whilst there.
Inmates can no longer control their daily routines, mealtimes, comings and goings or even the clothes they wear. Their every hour is regulated for them. This is the punishment that offenders incur.
But regrettably, inmates often experience punishments far beyond that determined by the judge – as other inmates, and even prison guards, mete out their own ideas of ‘justice’.
The prison system should ensure that vigilantism does not occur – that inmates are not punished beyond the sentence determined by a court.
But as the case of Hughes demonstrates, this is often not the case. Violence is common within prison walls, with guards often ignoring it, or even joining in.
Some prison officers have even been found to routinely watch prison fights between inmates and place bets on who will win.
While prisons are ironically referred to as ‘correctional centres’, it is clear that the current model does very little to live up to this name.
Little emphasis is placed on addressing underlying issues, learning positive life skills and ensuring that inmates will integrate smoothly into society upon release.
Rather, gaol can be counterproductive to rehabilitation, especially when vigilantism is permitted, or even encouraged, within prison walls.