From Supermax to ‘Supermosque’: Inside Australia’s most secure prison where Islamic terrorists now fill two thirds of the cells – but serial killer Ivan Milat says it’s better than most jails
- The High Risk Management Correctional Centre was opened in September 2001
- ‘Supermax’ is within the Goulburn Correctional Centre south-west of Sydney
- Terrorists are housed with some of Australia’s worst killers and gang members
- Most of the inmates in the 75-bed facility are convicted or accused of terrorism
A couple of hours drive out of Sydney nestled in prime sheep grazing country is Australia’s most secure prison, where some of the country’s worst criminals are held.
The High Risk Management Correctional Centre – better known as Supermax – is a modern jail within an old one, sitting in a corner of the Goulburn prison complex.
The facility houses men who cannot be allowed to mix in the wider prison system let alone walk free in the community but is within sight of suburban homes and farms.
Most of the older Anglo and Aboriginal prisoners who were here years ago are long gone and those who remain are now vastly outnumbered by young jihadis with Middle Eastern ancestry.
Whereas backpacker killer Ivan Milat once generated the most headlines from behind Supermax’s bars, that dishonour now falls to prison menace Bassam Hamzy.
Supermax was opened in September 2001 within the grounds of what was originally called Goulburn Gaol, a heritage-listed institution established in 1884.
Goulburn, Australia’s first inland city, is 197km south-west of Sydney and about 90km north-east of Canberra. The prison complex is on Maud Street, to the right of the Hume Highway if heading south.
Inside one of the austere cells at the High Risk Management Correctional Centre at Goulburn, which is 197km south-west of Sydney. All inmates in ‘Supermax’ sleep just one to a cell
Corrective Services officers remove ankle cuffs from an inmate inside his cell at Goulburn’s Supermax prison. Prisoners are subject to extreme security measures throughout the jail
The High Risk Management Correctional Centre sits within the Goulburn prison complex. It may be the country’s most secure prison but it is on the doorstep of houses and farming land
Officers put a Supermax inmate’s bedding and belongings through a screening process to ensure they do not contain any contraband such as drugs, weapons or electronic devices
The main Goulburn jail is a maximum security facility which holds hundreds of the worst criminals in New South Wales.
The 75-bed Supermax has been home to men among the most dangerous in the country, with serial killers, mass murderers and terrorists in its cells.
NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott has described it as a ‘Godless place’.
The centre was purpose-built to house inmates who require the highest level of security and more than 170 surveillance cameras monitor them 24 hours a day.
It looks nothing like the old Goulburn ‘main’ jail next door. The sterile corridors in Supermax are wide, the lights are bright and the cells are kept clean.
Supermax, which cost about $20million to build, is expensive to operate: it has been previously reported it costs more than $500 a day to house each inmate.
‘It is money that I would prefer to see the government spend on hospitals and schools but it is money to ensure the community in NSW is safe,’ Mr Elliott has said.
A Supermax inmate is moved from one area of the prison to another accompanied by three Corrective Services officers. Prisoners are under CCTV surveillance 24 hours a day
Brothers 4 Life gang founder and killer Bassam Hamzy (left) is one of the most dangerous inmates in Australia. Serial killer Ivan Milat (right) murdered seven backpackers in the Belanglo State Forest between 1989 and 1992 and has been in Supermax since it opened in 2001
Former NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham, who was instrumental in establishing the facility, once said: ‘The scumbags in the Supermax are in the right place.’
A Corrective Services spokeswoman said Supermax was an ‘integral part’ of the state’s penal system.
‘It is designed to accommodate male inmates who have been found to be an extreme high risk to the good order, safety and security of other correctional centres,’ she said.
It also housed inmates who were a ‘serious threat of escape, detained under national security provisions, or are considered high public profile.’
‘Regular multidisciplinary reviews of inmate behaviour within the centre are used to determine their progress through the three stages of the behaviour management program.
‘Psychology, education, counselling and welfare support services are provided.’
Supermax presents a sterile environment which more resembles a secure mental hospital than a typical Australian jail. Since it opened in September 2001 there have been no escapes
Terrorist Khaled Cheikho (left), who is serving 27 years in jail for his crimes, has in the past been allowed to associate with ISIS sympathiser Bassam Hamzy. Former Brothers 4 Life gang member Farhad ‘The Afghan’ Qaumi (right) is not allowed anywhere near Hamzy in Supermax
Supermax was once home to a solid core of Anglo and Aboriginal prisoners but two of its three wings are now used solely to house inmates convicted of or charged with terrorism offences.
Among its first inmates were several who will die in jail: serial killer Ivan Milat, mass murderer Malcolm Baker and five-time killer Lindsey Rose.
The jail’s most notorious inmate is still Milat, who despite being held behind such strict security has managed to keep himself in the news.
Miilat has cut off the little finger of his left hand, which he intended to mail to the High Court, and gone on a hunger strike when authorities took away his toasted sandwich maker and TV.
He has also swallowed razor blades, staples and other metal objects as he continues to deny murdering seven backpackers in the Belanglo State Forest between 1989 and 1992.
Milat is also a prolific correspondent with his letters fetching hundreds of dollars on a macabre collector’s market.
In a missive to one news.com.au reporter three years ago Milat, who also calls Supermax HRM or HRMU, seemed to quite like the place.
‘The food is fairly good,’ he wrote. ‘Any special diets, Muslims etc. are catered for. No guess work on that, once a person declares himself a Muslim then he always issued the religious friendly meals.’
A yard attached to a cell within the Supermax prison provides little room or privacy. Supermax has a small running track, basketball courts and exercise yards which are in high demand
Lindsey Rose (left), who killed five people between 1984 and 1994, served time in Supermax as did Malcolm Baker (right), who shot dead six people on the NSW Central Coast in 1992. Rose and Baker were early occupants of the prison but have since been moved to other jails
‘I gather you think this place HRM/Supermax is something really special. I know that it is portrayed as the harshest place in the system.
‘I know that for Commissioner Woodham’s tenure he certainly made out that it was a cross between a Russian Gulag and Auschwitz.
‘It’s not a luxury place for sure, it’s a prison, but compare the main prison, their conditions, with this place.’
Rose, who is serving five life sentences for a killing spree from 1984 to 1994, has been moved out of Supermax, as has Baker, who shot dead six people on the Central Coast in 1992.
Mark Valera, formerly Mark Van Krevel, was another Supermax inmate who had since been moved. In 1998 he decapitated shopkeeper David O’Hearn in the Illawarra region and a fortnight later murdered former Wollongong mayor Frank Arkell.
Gangster Michael Kanaan, who is serving life without the possibility of parole for three 1998 murders, is one long-term Supermax still in there.
The entrance to Supermax is just as plain as the cells inside. The prison’s full title is the High Risk Management Correctional Centre and it has a capacity for just 75 dangerous inmates
The heritage-listed main entrance to Goulburn Correctional Centre, formerly known as Goulburn Gaol, Goulburn Reformatory and Goulburn Training Centre. It opened in 1884
Armed robber Stephen Jamieson escaped from the main section of Goulburn in 2015 and has been in Supermax ever since.
Cop killer Sione Penisini, crime boss and double murderer Adnan Darwiche are current residents as is Carl Little, who bashed a Silverwater prisoner officer in 2006.
ISIS supporter Bourhan Hraiche, who carved ‘E4E’ – ‘an eye for an eye’ – into the forehead of an inmate at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre in 2016, is there too.
Historically, the Supermax population has included a mix of institutionally violent inmates, those with a high capacity to influence and persuade others to undertake illegal activities, and other notorious offenders.
In recent years, most of the inmates on Supermax have been Islamic terrorists, who generally do not mix with the high-profile non-Muslim murderers and other offenders.
The older Al-Qaeda supporters do not even mix with the younger adherents to Islamic State but they all face Mecca and pray five times a day.
Gangster Michael Kanaan (left), who is serving life without the possibility of parole for three 1998 murders, is one long-term Supermax still in there. Armed robber Stephen Jamieson (right) escaped from the main part of Goulburn in 2015 and has been in Supermax ever since
Originally called the High Risk Management Unit, this ugly fortress has sometimes been dubbed Supermosque due to its increasing number of Islamic inmates.
A report into radicalisation in the NSW prison system by the Inspector of Custodial Services in May last year found that 75 per cent of the Supermax inmate population was Muslim.
The same report found approximately one third of its inmates were on remand for national security offences.
And there is still room for more.
‘HRMCC is austere, yet compared with many prisons in NSW the relatively modern facility is not overcrowded,’ the report stated. ‘It is temperature-controlled and well maintained.’
Inmates at Supermax can be permitted access to a television, refrigerator, radio, fan, kettle and sandwich maker in accordance with their ‘behavioural management level’.
Gang rapist Bilal Skaf pictured in Goulburn’s Supermax prison with his mother Baria who was banned by prison authorities after she smuggled letters from her son out of the jail
Bilal Skaf (left), is serving a minimum term of 28 years for a series of gang rapes in 2000. Mark Valera (right) decapitated shopkeeper David O’Hearn in the Illawarra region in 1998 and a fortnight later murdered former Wollongong mayor Frank Arkell. Both have been in Supermax
They spend at least 16 hours a day in their cells, where they eat, shower and sleep.
Prisoners can have access to the Supermax library book service and a legal computer room on request.
The Supermax has a small running track, basketball courts, exercise yards and shared day and rear yards. There is a heavy demand for these facilities with inmates having access on a rotational basis.
In most NSW prisons, including the rest of the Goulburn complex, inmates associate freely within a wing, and most share a cell.
At Supermax mingling is limited, only two inmates can be together at one time and they must first apply to associate with another prisoner.
Sometimes those arrangements go wrong.
Goulburn, Australia’s first inland city, is 197km south-west of Sydney and about 90km north-east of Canberra. The Supermax prison sits within the larger Goulburn Correctional Centre
Sydney crime boss and double murderer Adnan Darwiche (left) is serving his sentence in Supermax. ISIS supporter Bourhan Hraichie (right) was transferred there after carving ‘E4E’ – ‘an eye for an eye’ – into another inmate’s forehead at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre
One of Australia’s most notorious prisoners is currently before the courts along with a fellow Supermax inmate with whom he allegedly had a fight in October last year.
Killer, Brothers 4 Life gang founder and ISIS sympathiser Bassam Hamzy and terrorist Talal Almaeddine both faced Goulburn Local Court on Wednesday charged with affray.
Hamzy, originally jailed over a 1998 shooting murder, has been a constant source of trouble while in custody. He established Brothers 4 Life while in prison and ran a drug ring from his former Lithgow cell.
He is a danger to staff and other inmates and has converted Supermax prisoners to radical Islam in the past.
Hamzy was responsible for converting a group of Aboriginal inmates then in Supermax about 15 years ago.
Among them were rapist and murderer Vester Fernando and violent repeat offenders Ronald Priestly, Peter Buchanan and Jimmy Paulson.
Former Brothers 4 Life gang member Farhad ‘The Afghan’ Qaumi is also in Supermax and not allowed to associate with Hamzy, with whom he has had a long and deadly feud.
Qaumi and Michael Kanaan are also reportedly not allowed to associate.
Killer Guy Staines (left) was thrown into Goulburn’s Supermax because of poor prison behaviour and converted to Islam. Murderer Leith Marchant (right), also converted to Islam under the influence of Bassam Hamzy. Staines was released and Marchant is out of Supermax
Vester Fernando (right), raped and murdered nurse Sandra Hoare at Walgett with his cousin Brendan Fernando in 1994. Five years later Vester murdered Brendan at Lithgow jail. Killer Ronald Priestly (left) was nearby at the time. Priestly and Fernando are no longer in Supermax
Hamzy, who won’t be released before 2035, reportedly does socialise with terrorist Khaled Cheikho, who is serving 27 years in jail for his crimes.
No inmate has been killed at Supermax and no one has ever escaped, or is likely to.
This time last year there were 50 prisoners housed in the prison – 25 of those were terrorists and six were foreign fighters.
The remaining 19 prisoners were there for offences unrelated to national security.
Prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences are classified AA – the highest security rating in the system.
Most Supermax inmates are also designated Extreme High Risk – Restricted (EHRR) or fall under the National Security Interest (NSI) designation.
All EHRR offenders must conduct their visits, mail and phone calls in English (unless given special approval) and all visitors must undergo criminal record checks.
Visiting hours are 9.15am to 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays and up to four adults as well as a ‘reasonable’ number of children may visit at one time. Sessions last an hour.
Most of the terrorist inmates at Supermax will one day be released back into the community. Milat, 74, will probably die within its walls.
Serial killer Ivan Milat will most likely die within the walls of Goulburn’s Supermax prison