After internal leaks over the proliferation of weapons, drugs and phones inside Canberra's prison, an iron-fisted clampdown has occurred on information being released by disgruntled staff and inmates.
New rules forbid detainees contacting media by mail, telephone or email, with a veiled threat to staff that disclosures cannot be made "without lawful authority" accompanied by a reminder of the consequences.
The ACT government claims the jail is Australia's first "human rights compliant" prison.
However, the new directive contradicts the ACT Human Rights Act 2004's freedom of expression clause, which "includes the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, whether orally, in writing or in print".
A government document released in January outlined the circumstances under which detainees' rights are limited. They must be "not arbitrary", "necessary to meet a pressing need" and the "least restrictive on rights as is possible".
The ACT Human Rights Commission was not consulted about the new policy, which was signed off by Corrective Services executive director Jon Peach.
"Any limitations on rights must be justified by the agency and I will likely be seeking further information from ACT Corrective Services on why they have placed particular restrictions on detainees' access to media," a statement from human rights commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs said.
The new clampdown comes after The Canberra Times received several anonymous letters from authors who have identified themselves as prison officers, but will not put their names to correspondence for fear of retribution.
In a recent revelation under internal review, a male prisoner scaled a three-metre chain link fence to meet a female prisoner in a surveillance camera "black spot". Prison policy forbids the mixing of male and female prisoners.
The clampdown effectively prevents any prisoner from being interviewed by the media without the permission of the executive director, setting out 10 new and specific "considerations" before access can be approved.
The considerations include "potential for community distress", "the good order of the correctional centre" and "the detainee's physical and mental health and wellbeing".
Staff were reminded of their confidentiality obligations, a breach of which carries a maximum penalty of $5500 and six months in prison.
The latest unsigned correspondence sent to The Canberra Times paints a damning picture of the jail's governance, pleads for an investigation, and says the "fear of retribution [from the executive] is real and all staff members are concerned".
It says that "weapons, drugs and mobile phones inside the jail is out of control. Mobile phones are being used to contact and intimidate witnesses and victims".
"The centre continually operates understaffed. Sick leave is at an all-time high and morale is extremely low," the writer states.
"Staff are under investigation and being stood down or even dismissed for failing in practices they have never been trained in.
"Can someone with authority please investigate these claims as I fear for my safety and the safety of my fellow colleagues".
The union has expressed its concern with the jail's peak capacity issues, and the risk this poses for staff.