The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today said that last night’s unrest at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) highlights the need for urgent reforms of the ACT’s prison.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “We condemn yesterday’s disturbance in the prison that endangered the safety and wellbeing of both detainees and staff.
“We need to fix the prison. ACTCOSS and other community organisations have long been calling for major reform of the AMC.
“Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Productivity Commission highlighted ongoing issues of overcrowding, prisoners locked in cells for extended periods, relatively low participation of eligible prisoners in training programs and unacceptable levels of assaults.
“The 2019 Healthy Prison Review by the Inspector of Correctional Services was also highly critical of aspects of AMC operations.
“The Review highlighted gaps in record keeping relating to strip searching, use of force, separate confinement and segregation orders, and time out of cells. This means that oversight bodies cannot fully monitor the wellbeing of detainees. It also reported a lack of access to mental health support.”
Dr Campbell said that the ACT Government needed to address remand policies at the AMC by separating people on remand including in the women’s section.
“The AMC does not separate people who are convicted of a crime from those who are on remand. This contradicts ACT Corrections legislation and international human rights law.”
ACTCOSS is calling on the ACT Government to focus on rehabilitation and urgently implement and fund all of the Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC recommendations.
“Too often detainees are unable to access productive education, work or rehabilitative supports. Programs must be culturally safe and supportive for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander detainees and gender-specific for women detainees.”
Dr Campbell said that key to fixing the prison is reducing the number of detainees through justice reinvestment policies.
“We need to divert vulnerable Canberrans away from the justice system and towards support including through the increased availability of appropriate drug and alcohol programs.
“The ACT has a high rate of re-imprisonment. According to the latest ABS Prisoners in Australia data (2019), 75% of non-Indigenous detainees in the ACT had experienced prior imprisonment. For Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander detainees the figure was 91%.
“The continued and substantial overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in our justice system is an indictment of the ACT Government and Canberra community.
“The high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people can only be reduced by challenging decisions at every step of the justice system, for example, over-policing, unconscious bias, mandatory sentencing, and punitive, rather than public health approaches to drug and alcohol issues,” Dr Campbell said.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.