Magistrate learns the rough end of justice

THE jury foreman's reply of ``guilty'' was like a whiplash across her face, but the full realisation of her hopeless predicament was to strike Di Fingleton through the personal indignity and degradation that followed.
During her eight years on the bench, Queensland's chief magistrate had sentenced hundreds of people to prison. Now, as she was led away by the bailiffs, she was about to learn what it was like to be on the receiving end.
In the drab, concrete holding cells beneath the Supreme Court in Brisbane, Ms Fingleton was photographed and strip-searched by guards wearing plastic gloves before being taken to the watchhouse for the night.
Yesterday, a day after being cleared on appeal by the High Court of threatening a subordinate, Ms Fingleton spoke for the first time of her traumatic six months in jail, which
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began on Wednesday June 4, 2003. In the watchhouse, she was ordered to stand on a line on the floor facing several seated officers while her name was called.
``I was taken to a room to change into my clothes and was given a brown tracksuit,'' she said.
``I wasn't allowed to keep my bra on and was given paper panties to wear, socks and no shoes. My clothes were placed in a plastic bag and I was put into a cell that had a toilet behind a low wall and a bed on the floor with a mattress.
``There was a television set and a surveillance camera high up in one corner. I had nothing else, nothing to read, nothing to do, and I was forced to watch myself on the TV news, and to see the desperate faces of my brothers and husband outside the Supreme Court.
``Sleep wasn't possible and I was allowed to shower in a big room but a camera watched my every move. I was still in shock, but remember hoping that a female officer was monitoring the screen.
``The thought that any male officer could make fun of me was too appalling to contemplate -- but I really wanted that shower.''
She said she made several resolves during that first sleepless night: to make sure she survived the ordeal, to forgive the people who were responsible for jailing her and, most importantly, to treat the prisoners with whom she had to live with respect -- and expect civility in return.
However, she allowed herself to ponder what those who had pursued her were doing. Were they celebrating with champagne, she wondered? Were they chuffed that she had been sent to jail?
The next morning she was transported in a prison van to suburban Wacol women's prison some 30km away. The prison is a razor-wire-enclosed facility set serenely in hilly rural countryside out of sight of residential areas.
Ms Fingleton was the first serving magistrate in Australia to be jailed and the authorities were taking no chances. From day one she was placed in the protection section of the prison because of fears she would face reprisals from inmates she had sent to jail. Her first night was spent in the hospital wing. With the light left on, she found it almost impossible to sleep.
``The protection unit was reserved for prisoners who would be at risk -- women who had killed, molested or tortured their children,'' she said.
``Almost all of them smoked, something which I abhor, so that was always a problem. And we were restricted in this section to just two sessions of one hour a week for sport or exercise.''
The ``special'' occasions were going to gym or art class or the library and to receive mail, which was always opened by the authorities and checked.
Before meeting visitors, Ms Fingleton had to swap her sneakers for rubber thongs, a precaution meant to prevent prisoners returning from contact visits with family and concealed drugs or weapons.
Prison food, Ms Fingleton said, ranged from ``quite good to ordinary'' but she never got used to eating seated on a backless plastic stool at a long table with others who hurried their meal, eating from plastic crockery with plastic cutlery.
Each morning at 7am, prisoners were woken by an announcement over the loudspeaker to be ready for ``unlock''.
``We had to come out of our cells dressed ready for the day, stand to attention and respond when our names were called,'' she said.
``I had to resolve not to be sarcastic, but really, where else could we be after a night locked in a cell? There was only one officer -- a male -- who gave us the dignity of doing the roll call by calling our Christian names and I later thanked him for this small gesture of humanity.
``I put this harshness thing in the morning down to the system needing to let us know we were subservient as soon as possible in the day -- but really I was happy to get out of that cell after being locked in there since six the previous evening.''
Ms Fingleton said three ``musters'' occurred each day -- at 10.30am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm, where all had to line up and respond that they were ``present''.
``I took the addressing by surname as a deliberate attempt to keep us in our place and to leave our self-esteem at the reception desk when we checked in,'' she said.
``But I must say the great majority of officers were polite, caring and had good senses of humour -- but there were appalling exceptions.
``Meals were distributed by staff with a real serving of `attitude' and I felt that was totally unnecessary.''
``At around 6.30pm `lock-down' occurred. I noticed several of the women hugged and kissed each other good night, which I thought showed some softness. No one came near me on my first night, but a few wished me `good night', which cheered me a bit. It was a noisy place, with officers patrolling around through the night and checking on each cell.''
She said the most heart-rending times were to watch mothers returning from a visit from their families -- how they cried.
As well, she thought it ``callous and unnecessary'' for officers who handed out prescription medicines and drugs to call out ``Smith and Jones'', rhyming slang (methadones) for the drug-dependent prisoners to collect their treatments.
Ms Fingleton said study opportunities were provided to prisoners, but too few availed themselves of the opportunity. There was a single stand-alone computer (not connected to the internet) provided in the wing. No one used it, so she spent as much time there as possible writing her book, Nothing to Do With Justice, which is to be published late this year.
``I could not begin to appreciate how women who had children on the outside coped,'' she said. ``Seeing some of the visits was heart-wrenching -- the tear-stained faces of those mothers as they returned to their cells.
``It is not understood that partners and children ``do the time'' with the prisoners and this is probably something that should be taken into account by the judiciary when sentencing a convicted person. Perhaps the whole family should be brought up to the bar table and have it explained -- because they all do the sentence.
``There were prisoners with sick children, relationship break-ups, money or drug problems -- it is devastating to see it all.
``Women prisoners cry a lot -- after they receive telephone calls, after visits and quietly on their own.
``But women are women everywhere and there is a lot of hugging and consoling in prison. They are human beings, and we should never forget it. I certainly won't.''