An iconic part of Grafton's history turns 125

ONE OF THE most iconic buildings in the Clarence Valley, this week marks 125 years of the Grafton Jail's operation.

An institution in the community, providing work for community members and in some cases, bringing new families to the region, the Grafton Jail has been an important part of Grafton's history.

Governor Michelle Paynter said this was a significant moment for the community.

"They supported us throughout (the 125 years)," she said.

"We look forward to asking them to come in on Saturday and joining with us to celebrate."

Having been with the correctional centre for five years, Ms Paynter said even though the jail played an integral role in the community, the community don't really know what they did.

"This is an opportunity for them to come in a see what Corrective Services NSW is about and how we've been involved in the past 125 years," she said.

Ms Paynter said she's proud to be at the helm of the Grafton Jail as it celebrates this big achievement.

"I am more proud than anything else of the wonderful team we have here doing a great job for not only for the agency, but also the community," she said.

"(The jail) has evolved over the years and kept up with all the changes that Corrective Services has implemented.

"Today we boast that we have industries... we have education, we have intervention specialists that deal with substance abuse, addiction issues, right down to domestic violence issues which is a big one in our society at the moment.

"You might see cells, the inmates walking around, but what you don't see behind the scenes is the wonderful job that all of the staff across all disciplines on a daily basis.

"Our staff come in and they do the job that they are well trained for and know what they are doing, but they certainly don't take it for granted and we're hoping the community can acknowledge (that)."


Execution at Grafton Jail

There has only been one execution at Grafton.

John Raymond Brown was hanged for the murder of three people at German Creek, Richmond River.

The gallows, which are still in place at the jail, were opened as Mr Brown was hung from a beam in the ceiling. His execution was described in depth in a number of newspapers.

The oldest section of the jail, One Wing, where maximum security inmates are kept, is a dark reminder of the prisons past.

Senior Correctional Officer Andrew Morris said Mr Brown was buried in the back corner of the jail, where the morgue and the chapel were constructed.

"He was buried beside the chapel," he said. "His bones still rest underneath the ground here. When construction took place in 1990, they didn't dig any bones up so he is still down there somewhere."


The barbed wire around the Grafton Jail
The barbed wire around the Grafton Jail Caitlan Charles

Great Escape

In 1996, two inmates attempted to escape the prison via a door on the second storey of the jail.

They convinced management they needed to paint the rooms upstairs, which were used as workshops unsupervised.

The first weekend, this went without hitch, but on the second weekend, the inmates requested a painter's plank.

While no one was watching, they put the painter's plank from the second-storey door to the wire and escaped over the wall. They were on the run for a number of months before being captured.

There was another notable escape in 1953 when bank robber Darcy Dugan and 11 other inmates attempted escaped.


Senior Correctional officer Andrew Morris lead the tour of the Grafton Jail.
Senior Correctional officer Andrew Morris lead the tour of the Grafton Jail. Caitlan Charles

Once the toughest prisons in state

AN IMPOSING and elaborate gatehouse is the picture Graftonians have in mind of the Grafton Jail. The building, which has a rich history, has stood on the corner of Hoof and Queen streets since 1893.

Designed by Sydney architect Henry Austin Wilshire, the jail was built to replace the first Grafton Jail on Victoria St which was considered unhygienic, flood-prone and too small.

In the 1940s, the jail developed a reputation as one of the toughest prisons in the state. However, now it is an intake and transient centre, meaning the inmates have not been sentenced. Following sentencing, they move to jails with classification.

Senior correctional officer Andrew Morris said most of the existing building is still original, with only a few upgrades.

"A lot of the things ... are absolutely original, they work as good now as the day they built it," he said.

Grafton Jail is the only jail in NSW with a full perimeter that members of the public can walk around on.

Built with 18 male cells, seven female cells, and two dark cells across the two-storey wing, the jail now houses 260 male minimum to maximum security inmates and 20 minimum-security females. .

>>>RELATED STORY: BACKWARD GLANCES: Historic jail marked for demolition


Senior Overseer Wayne Ringland talks about CSI and Grafton Jail industries.
Senior Overseer Wayne Ringland talks about CSI and Grafton Jail industries. Caitlan Charles

Inmates help self-sufficency

THE AIM is to become self-sufficient and give inmates at Grafton Correctional Centre the skills to find work and create better lives for themselves when they are released.

Senior overseer Wayne Ringland looks after the jail's Corrective Services Industries program, where inmates grow food, make products to sell and package firewood for sale.

"We send bulk (produce) down to St Heliers (Correctional Centre) where they process it for inmate meals," Mr Ringland said.

With rows of cabbage and cauliflowers in the plots, there will soon be harvesting, then the planting of cucumbers and tomatoes.

"Last year we produced about 20 tonne of tomatoes which we sent off for use in CSI," Mr Ringland said.

"Nine or ten jails around the state, we're all growing different things to help make the system self-sufficient."

Some of the inmates are completing TAFE courses as part of their CSI work.

Grafton Correctional Centre has contracts with suppliers, including businesses in Yamba and Byron Bay, for inmate-produced items.

Its most recent venture is creating bookshelves to sell at Beachside Bargains in Yamba.

The inmates build the bookshelves with the help of TAFE teachers, completing a course at the same time.

Teachers will often come into the jail to give lessons in addition to the practical work.

"There is traineeships for woodwork and for agriculture," Mr Ringland said.

The jail tries to capitalise on every aspect of production, with the wood shavings sold to pet stores.


Correctional officer Tina Richards in the at the June Baker Centre.
Correctional officer Tina Richards in the at the June Baker Centre. Caitlan Charles

Women stressed to be away from kids

NAMED after a woman who dedicated her spare time to working with female inmates, the June Baker Centre at Grafton Correctional Centre houses minimum-security women.

Senior correctional officer Andrew Morris said the women were in jail for a wide range of crimes, but most offending was connected to drugs.

"Ninety per cent of the people in jail, it's a drug-related offence - they are stealing something to get money for drugs, they've been on drugs, they've committed an offence under the influence of drugs, they're selling drugs," he said.

"It all correlates with what's happening in society with the rise in ice use. Quite a few of them have addiction."

The correctional centre provides services through case management for the women at the June Baker Centre, but one of the main issues the women deal with is being away from their children.

Mr Morris said they want to help them find ways to address the issues that put them in jail, and rehabilitate them. Part of that is helping them maintain and mend relationships with their children.

The correctional centre case managers work with the Department of Community Services to help prisoners maintain those connections.

Corrections officer Tina Richards, who works in the June Baker Centre, said most inmates were stressed about being away from their children.

Ms Richards said the environment in the women's centre could become quite stressful because of how strongly the women felt about not being with their children.

"They are the primary caregiver," she said.

Mr Morris added that a lot of the men at the jail did not go through similar issues when away from their children.

Grafton Correctional Centre can house up to 20 inmates in the June Baker Centre and six in the higher security section of the jail.

If they are at capacity, inmates are taken to Mid North Coast Correctional Centre.

  • The 125th anniversary of the Grafton Correctional Centre will be held at 170 Hoof St, Grafton from 10am to 2pm. There will be a number of displays including the K9 Unit and escort vehicles, historical images, a charity barbecue and inmate-produced products for purchase with all funds going to Buy A Bale.


Grafton Correctional Centre
Grafton Correctional Centre Caitlan Charles