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I thought I saw a prison escapee on a train, so I called triple-0. Here’s what happened after

Related Story: 'It's just a madhouse': Inside Victoria's prison system, where re..

Related Story: 'It's just a madhouse': Inside Victoria's prison system, where rehabilitation is failing Related Story: 'A sausage factory': What do magistrates' soaring caseloads mean for justice?

The man was picking at the sores on his face and using the blood on his finger to write on the wall of the train. So it was no surprise he had a bank of seats to himself.

He appeared to be in his early twenties, and agitated.

Normally I'd look the other way, hoping that both our journeys would end without incident.

But there was something else that looked strange — an olive green tracksuit with "PPP" on the left breast.

I remember the shock when it dawned on me what those letters stood for.

Port Phillip Prison.

By now, he had noticed my attention, and as the train pulled into the next station, he got up and fled.

I called triple-0 to report a possible escaped prisoner, and sent through the photos I had snapped on my phone.

A colleague in the ABC's newsroom also put in a media enquiry, but shortly afterwards, Corrections Victoria called back and said there were no reports of escapees.

The truth, which I learned weeks later, was perhaps even more surprising.

The "prisoner" was probably a former inmate who had been released in his uniform.

I remember thinking such a notion was absurd — the sight of a man in prison greens on public transport could easily startle someone.

But I discovered that it does happen — and more often than Corrections Victoria would like.

A sign reads 'PRISON PROPERTY KEEP OUT' in front of walls surrounding Port Phillip Prison.

"It's a stigmatising piece of clothing," said Claire Seppings, a social worker who has developed programs to reduce prisoner reoffending.

"It sends up all signs of judgements and fears when people see that."

While it's not common practice for inmates to be released in uniform, it happens frequently enough to cause concern.

"The first few days [after release] are crucial," Ms Seppings said.

"It's often when they're at the highest risk of relapse or further offending."

'Is anyone down on their muster?'

I lodged a Freedom of Information request for internal Corrections Victoria emails about the incident on the train, and discovered they went as high as the department's then-acting commissioner, Rod Wise.

The morning after I called triple-0, he sent an email to prison managers asking:

"Did we send anyone to court yesterday in greens, folks? Alternatively, is anyone one down on their muster?"

In other words: is anyone missing a prisoner?

A reply from the Melbourne Assessment Prison confirmed that prisoners were being discharged in their prison uniforms — and that every day, a couple of prisoners were being sent to court in them as well.

It offered this reason:

"Reception staff tell me more and more [prisoners are] coming in with nothing but the dirty clothes on their back which are often discarded.

"They either have no clothes or refuse to use the limited Salvo stock."

Stairs lead to an upper level of a high-security prison unit.

Mr Wise responded shortly after:

"I would be really keen for prisoners not to attend in greens."

He suggested alternative clothing "of an equivalent value" could be provided.

Little more than an hour later, deputy commissioner Brendan Money sent an email to multiple prison managers suggesting new tracksuits could be ordered to provide to prisoners before release.

"An ABC journalist contacted us with a photo of a man with a mohawk on a train — and he was wearing what appeared to be prison greens and prison shoes.

"There is an increasing number of prisoners being sent to court in prison greens or discharged in greens.

"The preference is that this does not happen."

Barwon Prison management said it was interested in a "small supply" of different coloured tracksuits, but "only where there is legitimate need".

An email from Metropolitan Remand Centre warned that releasing prisoners in new tracksuits "could be quite costly".

Ultimately, it was decided the best plan of action was to order new grey tracksuits and polo shirts for the prisoners.

External Link: Documents released under FOI relating to the release of prisoners

Prisoner 'kicked out' barefoot

There are a range of reasons a prisoner might find they are suddenly released by a court while still in their prison uniform.

In such cases, they may be able to access a charity who can offer clothing, and perhaps a short stay in crisis accommodation.

Craig Camblin walked out of prison barefoot, after leaving his shoes behind for another prisoner.

Each time he walked out of jail, having done another stretch for armed robbery to feed his heroin habit, he tried to go straight, but couldn't, he said.

"I got pretty much kicked out with a bag in my hand and a cheque for $200," he said.

Craig Camblin sits on stairs outside a derelict building.

"I didn't have anywhere to stay. I asked them over and over and over to convert my cheque to cash so I can pay for accommodation and they still wouldn't do it.

"I rang up a friend of mine, but I knew from the past I couldn't stay with him for more than a couple of days.

"I ended up living with a bloke that I knew was a drug dealer, which didn't turn out too well."

Corrections Victoria said prisoners were paid with cheques to encourage "thoughtful spending", as cheques cannot be "used immediately for items such as drugs and alcohol".

Inmates that are considered to have "high transitional needs" can also take part in support programs before or after release.

A revolving gate, below a sign labelled 'ENTRY', out the front of a prison yard.

Slipping through the cracks

Victoria spends more per prisoner than any other state, but the rate of recidivism is 44 per cent.

The problem, according to Ms Seppings, is that many former prisoners slip through the cracks.

"Once a person has completed their sentence, and if they're not under continuing supervision for community corrections, there is no further remit for corrections," Ms Seppings said.

"So it really is a community responsibility."

She said releasing inmates in prison uniforms was just the tip of the iceberg of problems former prisoners faced.

Ms Seppings is now helping to set up a mentoring program with Marngoneet Correctional Centre, near Geelong, which will connect newly released prisoners with former inmates.

"The majority of people in prison are going to return to the community," Ms Seppings said.

"It's in the community's best interest … and a person's best interest to be able to come back into the community as the best person that they [can] possibly be.

"That's where you reduce crime, reduce further victims."

Tracksuits instead of greens

Less than 24 hours after the ABC's initial media enquiry about the man on the train, prisons were being encouraged to place an order of grey tracksuits.

Matters of State

Why are Victoria's prisons failing?

Victoria is locking up more people than ever before, resulting in one of the most expensive prison systems in Australia. Is it making Victoria safe?

But a month later, a photo of another prisoner wearing an olive green PPP tracksuit at Bendigo County Court appeared in a local newspaper, prompting another concerned email from Corrections Victoria.

The department offered Port Phillip Prison priority order of grey tracksuits, given its "sizeable remand population".

In response to a series of questions, a Corrections Victoria spokeswoman said prisoners being released in their greens was a "longstanding issue", as donated clothing was sometimes unsuitable or refused.

"Corrections Victoria's Prison Industries program has now started making grey tracksuits for use as a last resort where prisoners have no other clothing alternative," a statement said.

"The alternative clothing is also made available to the operators of Victoria's private prisons."

The department would not say why it did not force prisons to provide alternative clothing.

"Corrections Victoria has also reminded prisons about the importance of prisoners not attending court or being released in prison greens," the statement said.

It said regular headcounts ensured Victorian prisons were secure.

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Downing Street have bigger problems over the Brexit deal than losing the PR war

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air w..

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air war” over its deal with the European Union very badly – and many journalists agree.

Its true that anyone watching 24-hour television has had a near-uninterrupted line of critical voices about Theresa Mays accord with the EU27. But the bigger problem is not that they didnt have, say, James Cleverly, going to bat to explain why Mays deal is a good one for rolling news.

Its that the number of people on air who have already said things on live TV or radio that make it hard to see how they could possibly vote for Mays deal is already above the number that May would need to lose to be in danger. The combined Conservative-DUP majority is 14, which means she needs to lose seven MPs to be in danger. The DUP has come out against the deal so she is already trailing by three. Add Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have both gone on air to denounce the deal and she is down by five.

The government is not just past the point where its majority on paper is in danger, but where it is outside the area where any realistic Labour rebellion can save it. Theres a tendency to underrate the chances that Conservative MPs will rebel because so many other confrontations with Conservative rebels, whether they be pro-Europeans or Brexiteers, have ended with the rebels voting with the government. But crucially, in each of those cases, the government made a concession to buy off those rebels. In some cases, sure, those concessions turned out to be worth less than would-be-rebels thought they were. But in all of those cases the government didnt have to put those concessions into a binding treaty that could be examined by MPs before they vote. In this case, they do.

And thats why while it is a problem for the government that they are losing the air war, it is a tiny one compared to the much bigger problem that they do not as it stands have a path to passing their Brexit deal through the House of Commons and it is tricky to see where they are going to get one.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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No Nut November: the insidious internet challenge encouraging men not to masturbate

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme mi..

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme misogyny and threats of violence.

“Well done to the soldiers fighting on the front lines. And a moment of silence for our fallen comrades,” reads one post. “We must stay strong and continue the challenge for them,” reads another. “For my brothers still out there, we have survived almost two weeks,” reads a previous post, “Two weeks of self-determination.” “I will NOT lose this battle!” reads another.

These posts may read like an army motivational board, a triathlon training forum, or even, generously, a gamer thread. However they belong to one particular forum on social network Reddit that has exploded in popularity over the last several years. Growing out of the annals of 4chan and similar internet message boards from the early noughtie, as well as being built on deeply traditional, historically puritanical views, the movement has grown to the tens of thousands, with hundreds posting on the sub-Reddit every single day. The forum is No Nut November: the internet challenge encouraging men not to ejaculate (or “nut”) for an entire month.

The rules of No Nut November (often abbreviated to NNN) are relatively straightforward: the key being not to orgasm for the entire month of November. Details of the rules on the sub-Reddit include lines like “ONE WET DREAM ALLOWED”, “NEBs (Non-ejaculatory masturbation) and pre-cum are allowed”, and “SEX IS A DISQUALIFICATION, BIRTHDAY SEX INCLUDED”. A motivational post on the sub-Reddit, giving helpful guidance to those participating, includes advice such as “DONT. EDGE.”, “Keep your bladder empty”, and “Dont be alone”.

No Nut Novembers popularity has grown so rapidly in the last few years that it has managed to penetrate the mainstream. Burger King even tweeted on 1 November referring to the challenge: “him: its only a month / waifu [slang for a female partner derived from anime and manga]: ………..[crying emoji]”. On one Reddit forum dedicated to adults trying to relate to young people, a post with over forty thousand upvotes read, “Yep guys. Burger King just acknowledged No Nut November.”

him: it's only a month
waifu: ………..

— Burger King (@BurgerKing) November 1, 2018

This may, initially, appear to be your average, dumb, internet challenge; something bizarre and fleeting, like eating a teaspoon of cinnamon or chugging a gallon of milk within an hour. The type of online trend that, although perhaps unpleasant, is nothing but harmless. However, NNN is different. While some participating in the month-long abstinence period may be doing just that, simply participating; the challenge has a darker side and often dangerous consequences that affect more people than those just participating. I spoke to Girl on the Net, a sex blogger who has written extensively on topics such as masturbation, sex-positivity, and the effects of porn on our mental health – key to the No Nut November philosophy. She shed a light on how No Nut November began.

“NNN came out of the NoFap movement, which began on Reddit, with guys encouraging each other to give up masturbation,” she says. Indeed, the NoFap sub-Reddit began in 2011, when one Redditor discovered a study that argued men who abstained from masturbating saw huge spikes in their testosterone levels after a week. While initially built merely on this foundation, the NoFap community has become linked to wider sexism and misogyny, reducing women to sexual objects to be attained or abstained from and shaming sexually active women. And this is no niche philosophy. The NoFap sub-Reddit, at the time of writing, has 377,000 subscribers.

“There is a lot of myth and misogyny mixed in with what is essentially a fairly harmless personal challenge” Girl on the Net tells me. “I suspect most people doing NNN are doing it for personal reasons; they think they're spending too much time wanking, for instance, and want to see if they can spend their time on other things.” (more…)

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An agreement in Brussels is only the beginning of Theresa Mays problems

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed betwe..

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed between both sets of negotiators in Brussels, Theresa Mays cabinet will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider a draft of the withdrawal agreement. Ministers also will meet the Prime Minister individually this evening.

While we dont yet know what the text of that agreement says, we do know what Brexiteer cabinet ministers dont want to be in it: an Irish border backstop in the form of a “temporary” customs union that cannot be left unilaterally by the United Kingdom. The best that the EU will offer is a multilateral “review mechanism”, not a time limit or one-sided break clause.

We also know what the DUP will not accept: a backstop that only applies to Northern Ireland, or provisions within a UK-only backstop that apply to Northern Ireland alone. A customs union in and of itself wont prevent a hard border, so the latter will be needed at the very least. By the DUPs uncompromising logic, this is merely disingenuous new packaging for the same unacceptable reality.

Reports from Brussels suggest the deal will contravene both of those red lines. Just as important as the word “deal”, however, is “draft”: nothing will be finalised until it is signed off by the EU Council this month or next. If the shape of the agreement is as expected, we should also expect Cabinet resignations. May then faces a choice between ploughing heedlessly on with a deal that cannot win the support of her executive, to say nothing of the legislature, or returning to Brussels to beg for more concessions. Neither path looks likely to generate a happy outcome.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.

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