An intelligent man, Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury must have known he was about to fall into a deep pit and be covered with excrement when he took on the portfolio.
"The [Canberra] prison was built too small and without industry, and we've been playing catch-up ever since," he said, responding to an independent review into Canberra's jail this week, in which 73 recommendations were listed.
Some were as simple as the need for a proper "test and tag" regime.
Others raked through much more complex problems such as the awful accommodation plight of women prisoners, hemmed in on three sides by leering men, some of whom have been locked up for sex crimes.
Poor planning has let the prison, its staff and its population down, and the ACT government is now paying the penalty for it.
Lost in the mists of time, some faceless bureaucrats in the ACT Treasury decided the Symonston prison should be of a particular modest size because, presumably, Canberra was not seen to be as lawless as other jurisdictions.
The police would differ, of course.
And sticking everyone, from cannabis repeat offenders and white collar fraudsters to violent bikie hoodlums, behind the same maximum-security wire probably seemed like a good, cost-saving idea at the time, too.
The planning legacy is a prison which was never going to work properly, has terrible recidivism rates, is the most expensive to run in the entire country, and at which an embarrassed ACT government has to throw millions of dollars to retro-fix.
Mr Rattenbury faced predictable calls for his resignation this week but he aims to tough it out, hoping he can see better times ahead.
"I'm committed to staying the course," he said.
He said the review's assessment window had closed in July, and there had been "substantial improvement" since that window closed.
"[The review] doesn't recognise the progress made since then," he said.
But prisons being prisons - a five-day lockdown across the entire jail earlier this month after a hole was cut in the fence and a package containing drugs and scissors thrown inside being the latest incident - the portfolio's uncomfortable and awkward outcomes just keep on coming.
An internal review, which is still looking into why an alarm went off when the perimeter breach occurred but security didn't wander out and have a look (which may, with the help of a flashlight, have found the hole in the fence), is still under way. This internal report may or may not be released.
The detailed 164-page review from the Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister, was never going to yield good news for the minister, nor the cloistered and furtive Justice and Community Safety directorate.
The appointment of Mr McAllister, a very experienced corrections investigator, to an independent position where he would report directly to the ACT Assembly and not the directorate nor the minister was part of the fallout from the Moss report into the 2015 death in custody of Indigenous man Steven Freeman.
His appointment helped soothe the anguish around the procedural and assessment stuff-ups which led to Mr Freeman's death, and in doing so created unexpected transparency through a regular biennial review process.
"We set [the inspectorate] up and we funded it," the minister said. Hindsight is a marvellous thing.
Given $5 on their telephone account, prison clothes and tobacco, all new inductees are assessed briefly on their physical and mental health and assigned a shared cell.
Each inmate is given a security rating within 14 days of arriving, and some - particularly those on remand for sexual or homicide offences against children, former cops, or key witnesses for the Crown - immediately go into protection or segregation.
So evidently it's true what they say: prisoners in the general population hate "rockspiders".
Nearly a quarter of the prison population is in protection. That's 117 prisoners.
"Many detainees we spoke to in the protection units said that they did not know why they had been placed in protection and had not requested placement in protection," the report said.
Further complicating matters, 40 per cent of the population is on remand. Sentenced prisoners mix with the remandees, an issue for which prison operators had not planned but were forced into by population pressure.
The "churn" factor created by remandees coming and going is a constant disruption to the jail's daily routine. There were 834 detainees admitted to the prison in 2018-19, and 837 discharged.
Every admission and discharge is time-consuming and resource-intensive, and therefore expensive. But necessarily so.
People moving about the jail need to be escorted by corrections officers, whose working life behind the maximum-security wire is hardly an easy one. The union has urged the government to boost staff numbers and improve the gender balance of those in uniform. It's a work in progress, for recruitment and training is a lengthy process.
For the prisoners, jobs are few and far between. Many are menial level-one jobs which pay around $25 a week. The most coveted places are in the bakery or the kitchen. Without money, detainees can't ring their families and the high cost of telephone calls was one of the findings of the review.
Some of the female offenders have been victims before, and are now victims again. They were intended to be placed in the jail's purpose-built cottages, but overcrowding means they are now within a former "special care" facility designed for men.
They have few opportunities for improving their literacy and numeracy, and much fewer support systems. They can't access the Solaris drug and alcohol program, nor can they be involved in the CALM (Culture and Land Management) gardening program.
For Mr Rattenbury, the planned 80-bed reintegration centre can't arrive soon enough. This will take minimum-security prisoners out of the jail and prepare others facing imminent release. But it's years away.
There are no quick fixes and, from a political perspective, that's never good news.