ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Joint statement: ACT community services support National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services’ COVID-19 policy statement

24 April 2020

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has united with the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, the Women’s Legal Centre ACT and Professor Lorana Bartels to support the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services’ (NATSILS) COVID-19 policy statement and to call for its implementation in the ACT.

The NATSILS statement calls on government, the police, courts and corrections agencies to play their part in keeping our people safe and to stop the virus ravaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

ACTCOSS and its partners join with NATSILS in calling for the immediate release of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and young people who are:

  • most at risk, with pre-existing health issues, including elderly people, people with chronic health conditions, disability and mental health conditions;
  • on remand, including by fast-tracking bail applications;
  • imprisoned for a term of six months or less; and
  • eligible for early release for those who have six months or less left to serve, with expedited parole processes.

We commend ACT Policing for showing strong cooperation with the community and legal sectors and for issuing no infringements for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions. We also welcome the ACT Government’s additional investment in housing initiatives in response to COVID-19.

However, the ACT is yet to act on the release of at-risk detainees. This inaction directly impacts Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT, who make up around one quarter of the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) population.

Furthermore, in 2019 the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services found that:

  • contrary to ACT Corrections legislation and ACT and international human rights law, detainees on remand are not separated from sentenced detainees;
  • women on remand are a significant proportion of the women in the AMC (59% at time of reporting); and
  • Indigenous women account for a high proportion of female detainees (nearly half of all women on remand at time of reporting).

As a proud human rights jurisdiction, the ACT must do everything it can to ensure the humane and rehabilitation-based treatment of detainees. This includes preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the AMC by reducing the population of the AMC through early release of appropriate detainees, combined with safe and secure housing for detainees post-release.

Signatories:

  • Professor Lorana Bartels, Criminology Program Leader, Australian National University
  • Marcia Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Centre for Health Matters
  • Elena Rosenman, Executive Director, Women’s Legal Centre ACT
  • Dr Emma Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, ACT Council of Social Service

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.