ASSOCIATES (2010, July, v. 17, no. 1)


On the Inside – Roses and All

He used to send me roses, I wish he would again,
but that was on the outside and things were different then!

Marrianne Wilkins
Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre
Corrective Services, New South Wales

Hello and greetings. I am the Librarian IC at the Ron Woodham Library, Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre (MRRC), Silverwater. The centre is a correctional centre (gaol/jail) and the clients mostly inmates. The library also provides a service to Offender Services and Programs (OS&P) staff and correctional officers. OS&P are education, welfare, Alcohol and Other Drug, and psychology staff. My role is very interesting, challenging and sometimes daunting. The library service has similar functions to a public library, with a relatively comprehensive legal collection. There are three staff members at MRRC, a Library Technician, and two Librarians. We are part of an eight member library service run by Corrective Services, New South Wales (CSNSW). The Library Services Manager and staff work closely as one team. All other libraries within the CSNSW system have inmates Library clerks and are overseen by Corrective Services Education Officers.

MRRC has been built around a beautiful heritage house (Irwin House) with a magnificent garden, mostly roses. This garden is looked after by the inmates and was featured in Gardening Australia, May 2001. One side of the library faces the garden, the view is a bit like looking through rose coloured glasses (my interpretation of very strong steel mesh).

Getting in and out (getting out everyday is very important), and moving around the complex is a challenge. In order to get to the library it is necessary to go through 12 doors/gates, to get out requires access through 14 doors/gates (need to go back in to sign in the keys). These doors/gates are accessed by swipe card, opened by the control centre, or opened by turning the handle backwards and using your muscles to manoeuvre the door. To collect the mail there are about 19-20 doors/gates for the round trip.

Security is a big issue here, understandably, as this is a maximum security correctional centre. We have to wear a duress alarm, this alarm is very touchy and can be set off by bending over or falling to the ground (hope it never comes to that!). If you bend over the wrong way to pick up a book a high pitch alarm goes off, and is directed to central control, and if they cannot contact you they send a well armed and able bodied response team to find you (could be interesting?!). Unfortunately, I have accidently set it off on numerous occasions. Squats are the best method of extracting something from the floor (very aerobic!). When I was walking through the garden one morning, enjoying the sunshine, I could hear someone calling my name, it was an officer in the tower above me trying to let me know my alarm needed resetting. That was before they gave me an “official belt” to hold it, I had it in my pocket.

It is mandatory for a Correctional Officer to be posted in the library in order for inmates to have access. There is a roster system with times allotted to each POD (a group of cells). If the inmates cannot come to the library we take a trolley of books to each POD area, this is our POD delivery service. All reference/legal requests are recorded on a research form, blank forms are held in each POD area and the library. Most requests are for legal research – comparative sentencing, legislation, commentary, legal terminology definitions, and cases similar to their own. I do the legal research for the inmates for all the correctional centres of NSW. This is done via fax, mail, email and telephone through the inmate’s educational officer. We have access to legal subscription databases online and the internet for various free databases.

The library collection has approximately 12,000 titles. We have a substantial legal section which includes LIAC. LIAC, the Legal Information Access Centre, is a service conducted by The State Library of NSW, and provides legal resources for use in Public Libraries. This service has been provided to all Correctional Centres in NSW, with an extended collection at the MRRC. There is also a multicultural collection and this is growing. These are borrowed in bulk loans by other correctional centres. Overdue items are always high, this is due to inmates transferring to other gaols or being released, and taking the books with them.

The inmates have been polite and respectful (so far!!). Most are appreciative of what you do for them, although some do not know how to say thankyou (I don’t think I will chastise them for this!!!). Impartiality, fairness, an open mind and detachment are the key attributes required to work here.