Review - AUSTRALIA'S MOST MURDEROUS PRISON: Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail, James Phelps

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Australia's Most Murderous Prison: Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail
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Book Synopsis


An unprecedented spate of murders in the 1990s – seven in just three years – earned Goulburn Jail the ominous name of ‘The Killing Fields'. Inmates who were sentenced or transferred to the 130-year-old towering sandstone menace declared they had been given a death sentence. 

Gang alliances, power plays, contracted hits, the ice trade, the colour of your skin – even mistaken identity – any number of things could seal your fate. 

The worst race war in the history of Australian prisons saw several groups – Aboriginal, Lebanese, Asian, Islander and Anglo – wage a vicious and uncontrollable battle for power. Every day there were stabbings. Every day there were bashings. And then there was murder 

A controversial policy known as ‘racial clustering' might have put an end to the Killing Fields, but soon something far scarier would arise, something called Supermax . . . Within the stark white walls, clinical halls and solitary confinement, it is where Australia's most evil men are locked away. It is home to serial killer Ivan Milat; the ‘Terror Five', militants who plotted attacks across Sydney in 2005; Brothers 4 Life founder Bassam Hamzy and gang rapist Bilal Skaf, to name a few.

Murderers, terrorists, serial killers, gangsters and rapists – soon you will meet them all inside Australia's most murderous prison.

Book Review

A book where the title is utterly unambiguous, AUSTRALIA'S MOST MURDEROUS PRISON is about Goulburn Jail. It refers to events in the jail as much as many of it's inmates crimes. It is also provides a brief history of the construction, background and management of the jail, where the worst of NSW inmates invariably end up.

Written in a light style that initially might seem almost irreverent, it works incredibly well when it comes to relating many of the events that occur within the jail, and in particular when discussing the "activities" of some of the more notorious prisoners held within. 

At no stage does Phelps attempt to justify many of the extreme measures taken within the jail, rather he draws a series of quite graphic pictures of the worst of events - the race wars, the inmate on inmate violence (physical and sexual) and the consequences of riots from prisoner conditions through to the careers of jail wardens. This allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about the racial clustering and the construction and running of the notorious Supermax area.

Many true crime books tend to concentrate on a particular case, or connected cases and the events leading up to trial / verdict, but AUSTRALIA'S MOST MURDEROUS PRISON is looking mostly at the incarceration of offenders, particularly those that end up in the end of the line jail at Goulburn. The concentration on particular offenders is not so much about what they have done, but rather what jail time is doing to them, how they ended up in Goulburn and how they cope with it. 

Because this is a book about a jail it jumps around from offenders, to in jail offence, from riot to warden's viewpoint, from anecdotes to analysis. AUSTRALIA'S MOST MURDEROUS PRISON is a fascinating book, written in a very readable style.

All Reviews of Books by this Author


As one of the officers named in the book, I would like to point out to the author of the review, that we are known as Correctional Officers, NOT wardens, warders. We haven't been called by those names for over 40 years. We are a very professional breed of men and women, who take a great deal of pride in our work. The term warders is more closely related to hospital, rather than prisons, (which by the way, are now known as Correctional Centres), and the term Warden is actually an American term for the overall controller or manager of the American Prisons. Our Managers are highly trained men and women, known as a Superintendent, or The Governor, when actively working within a Correctional Centre.
All in all, a well written review. Hope this comment helps you to better research your reviews in the future.

Within the text of the book Mr Phelps does refer to "Correctional Centres", and he also uses the terms warders, wardens, Prison Officers, and on 1 occasion within the text and 2 within the attributions he uses "Correctional Officer". "Governor" is used as well.

In researching the content of the book for my review I opted for the most frequently used, consistent terminology and that which felt the most likely to be recognisable by readers from outside the system.

Postscript: I've been thinking further about your comment over the weekend, reflecting considerably on the treatment of women's voices on the Internet as there's an albeit mild, issue about the way you've framed your input. Whilst the extra information about the terminology used is of mild interest to readers of my review, it's worthwhile noting that my review is not the source material, rather it is a commentary on the book. Your extra information could be seen in the light of an interesting footnote, were it not for your final line. Which frankly, is patronising.

One is left musing on whether or not you were aware of the patronising nature of your recommendation for future reviewing (after all a quick glance at this site will clearly indicate that the number of reviews written is now in the 1,000's), or whether or not you simply feel that you have a right to be as arrogant as you are coming across.

Either way it's appears to be a mildly interesting example of the type of non-too-subtle attempt at a put down that's dished out on a semi-regular basis to anybody female on the internet that dares to publicly declare a comment.

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