The Year 11 Legal Studies class, after completing a unit of work on “Sanctions”, attended Pentridge Prison in Coburg, Melbourne on 16 August. The class learned how the prison opened in 1851 and operated though until final prisoners were removed in 1996. During its time as the major prison in Victoria it housed many of the most violent offenders and became a focus of the “Capital Punishment” debate after the hanging of an escapee prisoner from Pentridge, Ronald Ryan, who was hanged in 1966 (the last person hanged in Australia).

The students listened to a brief history of the prison and were then welcomed into the block notoriously known as “H Division” (colloquially known as “Hell Division”) which housed violent, repeat offenders and any escapees. H Division became known as a place of almost unlimited brutality and violence and on closure of the prison it was widely acknowledged that beating prisoners and treating all like caged animals did nothing for rehabilitation and reform, one former prisoner recording “it turned people who had stolen a bike into potential murderers”.

In the visit to H division each student was provided with a headset and was able to walk into cells and listen to a variety of stories linked to the experiences of prisoners and wardens whilst at Pentridge. Some student feedback from the day included comments such as:

  • “I loved the self-paced explorations of the cells with the audio “
  • “Excessive sanctions like hard labour exploited the prisoners and dehumanised them.”
  • “I learnt that hard labour does not always benefit and teach an offender like I thought it did.”
  • “I learnt about how harsh the punishments were and the ‘crew mates’ stories from H division.”