Getting older inside (from left): Leslie Camilleri, Julian Knight, Robert Lowe, Ashley Coulson, Raymond ‘‘Mr Stinky’’ Edmunds and Bandali Debs.

Getting older inside (from left): Leslie Camilleri, Julian Knight, Robert Lowe, Ashley Coulson, Raymond ‘‘Mr Stinky’’ Edmunds and Bandali Debs.

Many of them are old and frail. Most of them are friendly and compliant and all of them are doomed to die in prison.

While half of Victoria's 5800 inmates are serving jail terms of less than one year, there are 10 who have stood in the Supreme Court dock to be told that no matter what they do or say, they will never be released.

Hopelessly institutionalised, they are resigned to their fate, no longer looking for the miracle appeal or a legislative backflip.

They have seen inmates come and go (one has seen seven prime ministers sworn in), watched as prison officers have been promoted or retired, and endured after visits have stopped because relatives have died or lost interest.

Between them they have committed 27 murders and have so far served 179 years of their life sentences.

Prison officers say most of them are quiet and well behaved. The inmates know that bad behaviour will result in punishment and the violent and vicious now choose to meekly travel the path of least resistance.

They are occasionally moved to a new division or even a new jail but most stay in protection, seeing the same faces and following the same routine day after day and year after year.

Those who refer to prisons as luxurious motel-style facilities either have never been inside one or need to check Trip Advisor before booking their next holiday destination (a toilet seat would be nice).

Prisons are bleak, boring and scary. Many of the inmates are depressed, hopelessly drug-dependent, evil, cross dressers or police informers, which means in jail-speak they are sad, mad, bad, drags or lags.

Those who call for tougher conditions and jail terms fail to understand that the vast majority of prisoners will get out and, without meaningful rehabilitation, are likely to re-offend.

It is not only civil libertarians and subeditors who call for shorter sentences. Many police and prosecutors privately say young offenders should be sent to jail only as a last resort, while career criminals should be treated severely.

For the Bottom Ten, the Three Rs (reform, rehabilitation, release) are replaced with the Three Bs (boredom, brutality and barbed wire) and this is why.

TWENTY years ago travelling salesman and church elder Robert Arthur Selby Lowe was sentenced to life with no minimum for the murder of Sheree Beasley, 6, who was abducted on June 26, 1991 near her Rosebud home. Her body was found in a drain on September 26 in Red Hill.

Lowe, now 76, was a sexual predator who approached young girls in the street for 30 years, with most of his crimes going unreported.

Stan Taylor was a part-time actor and full-time psychopath with a hatred of police, which is why his gang detonated a car bomb outside the Russell Street police station in 1986, killing policewoman Angela Taylor and injuring 22.

He claimed that if he had a terminal disease he would strap on explosives and kill as many police as possible. He was all mouth, for when he was arrested he tried to cut a deal to become a police witness - but someone beat him to it. He is now 75 and in poor health. He is unlikely to be flooded with get-well cards.

In August 1992, adventurer, lone sailor and unhinged thrill killer Ashley Mervyn Coulston answered an ad to share a rented house in Burwood. When he arrived he bound and shot Kerryn Henstridge, 22, Anne Smerdon, 22, and Peter Dempsey, 27. Some police still believe it was not his first murder.

Raymond Edmunds might have got away with murder if he had kept his pants on. When his fingerprints were taken after his 1985 wilful exposure arrest they proved a match for the 1966 murders of Shepparton teenagers Garry Heywood and Abina Madill. His Pentridge escape attempt was foiled when he was found by a sniffer dog, which is hardly surprising given his nickname is Mr Stinky. He will turn 70 next week.

Peter Norris Dupas was convicted of the murders of Nicole Patterson, Margaret Maher and Mersina Halvagis and is under investigation for the murder of 95-year-old Kathleen Downes. Dupas was imprisoned by his own demons long before he was jailed for life.

Leslie Camilleri, 44, was sentenced to life sentence with no minimum over the 1997 murder of Bega schoolgirls Lauren Barry and Nichole Collins, and an irrelevant extra 28 years after he pleaded guilty last year to the 1992 abduction murder of Glenroy schoolgirl Prue Bird.

Police have no doubt he killed Prue on the instructions of one of the Russell Street bombers to punish a witness in the case linked to the Bird family. But as he was already sentenced to life there is no incentive to tell the truth. He has shown no remorse and should be shown no pity.

John Leslie Coombes, Leigh Robinson and Steven James Hunter had all killed before when they murdered again. There are some killers who reform and are released never to offend again. But these three - violent, unpredictable and obsessive - should not have been considered acceptable risks.

All killed again and all chose women as their victims.

Coombes killed twice in 1984 and after his release he strangled Rachael Betts in a Phillip Island home in 2009.

Robinson, 66, killed Valerie Dunn, 17, in 1968 when she refused to go out with him and in 2008 he did the same thing to his then partner, Tracey Greenbury.

Hunter fatally stabbed his supermarket work colleague Jacqueline Mathews when she refused to go out with him. Nearly 26 years later he stabbed and bashed Sarah Cafferkey to death.

And then there is Paul Steven Haigh, who at the age of 21 killed six people, including a nine-year-old boy.

Released from prison in September 1978 after serving three years of a five-year term, he killed a stranger in an aborted hold-up within two weeks.

He killed two people in armed robberies, shot a fellow criminal, stabbed his girlfriend 157 times, shot a mother and then turned the gun on her son because the child was a potential witness.

''It takes no hero to murder. The most puny man in the world can pull a trigger. I always was, and still am, a coward,'' he said seven years later.

Sitting with him in Pentridge more than 25 years ago, it was hard to reconcile the quietly spoken and obviously intelligent inmate with his bloody crimes.

When I asked him why he had stabbed his girlfriend so many times he began miming the killing while explaining that his mind wandered and ''I lost count''. He said he was not ready for release but was confident that he could control his violent tendencies. He was being optimistic.

A year later Julian Knight opened fire in Hoddle Street, killing seven people and injuring 19.

This meant Haigh was no longer the inmate who had killed the most.

In 1991, he helped kill fellow prisoner Donald George Hatherley. Haigh hanged Hatherley, 36, in his Pentridge cell, holding onto his legs and pulling down until he was dead.

Haigh claimed he was helping Hatherley to commit suicide but he was convicted of murder for the seventh time. Justice Coldrey said Haigh took advantage of the death wish of an unstable and vulnerable man for his own fulfilment.

Many in prison think Haigh committed the murder to equal Knight's ''record''.

And there is one other, now serving his time in NSW. Bandali Debs was found guilty of the 1998 Moorabbin murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rod Miller. Later he was found guilty of killing teenager Kristy Harty and the Sydney murder of Donna Anne Hicks.

It is easy to say his soul should rot in jail but that process was complete long before he was arrested.

The ageing prison population is a growing problem. A recent concentration on cold-case sex crime cases means men in their 60s and 70s have been convicted of offences committed up to 30 years ago. The lifers have one advantage over other inmates. Prisoners earn a small allowance (usually around $40 a week), with 20 per cent being withheld for their release.

But as these 10 won't be released they receive their full whack, which means they have around $8 extra to spend at the prison canteen.

Which roughly equates to a Zooper Dooper icy pole (23¢), a tub of Vaseline ($2.73), a tin of anchovies ($2.78), Movietime Popcorn ($1.60) and a packet of noodles (65¢).

It is a case of whatever gets you through the night - thousands of them.