ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Justice reinvestment project welcome, but more work needed on diversion

15 February 2019

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) welcomes Minister Shane Rattenbury’s announcements today on a major justice reinvestment project for the ACT, Building Communities Not Prisons.

“We are pleased that Minister Rattenbury has confirmed the ACT will invest in initiatives to improve responses to offending in the ACT justice system, rather than expand the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC). We must also avoid sending more people to prisons outside the ACT,” ACTCOSS Director Ms Susan Helyar said.

“Recent Report on Government Services data showed the AMC is currently at 108% capacity. Today there are 475 people in the AMC, and in June last year the population reached 507. This is almost a 300% increase from the daily average rate ten years ago.

“In Canberra crime is decreasing, yet prison numbers are rising. The ACT clearly needs community-focused solutions to address this perverse outcome. The range of programs announced by Minister Rattenbury are a welcome first step to reimagining justice responses in the ACT.

“In addition, ACTCOSS would like to see more investment for surround supports in sectors that can reduce contact with the justice system, such as alcohol and other drug treatment services; housing and psycho-social support services; and funding for whole-of-family domestic violence supports.”

Reintegration Centre

“ACTCOSS welcomes the expansion of the current Transitional Release Centre (TRC) into a Reintegration Centre with 80 extra beds. However, we are very concerned the centre will not accommodate women.

“The imprisonment rate of women, particularly Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women, is the fastest growing in the ACT. Women in the AMC are suffering due to the overcapacity of the centre; they have been moved from their purpose-built accommodation and have difficulty accessing essential health services.

“We know that many women in the AMC are serving short sentences for minor offences. To restrict their access to the Reintegration Centre is a detriment to their health, wellbeing and rehabilitation, and confirms that these women are detained in a facility designed for men.

“We are pleased to hear the Reintegration Centre will focus on building community connections and participation in work. However, in planning the Reintegration Centre the government should consider expanding the limited manual labour work options currently available in the existing TRC; this work may not be appropriate for many detainees, including detainees with disabilities.

“The ACT Government could also set an example by introducing open employment targets for people who have been in prison, offering detainees a wider range of work opportunities in a variety of sectors.”

Bail Support Accommodation

“ACTCOSS welcomes the announcement of $6.8 million for a Bail Accommodation Transition Support Service, which we recommended in our 2019-20 Budget Submission.

“Bail support accommodation is the most immediate investment to reduce numbers in the AMC and should be prioritised given the urgency of reducing overcrowding in the AMC.

“In the ACT we have a presumption of bail for all minor offences; but without bail support this cannot be met if people do not have adequate accommodation. This leads to unnecessary time spent in prison.

“However, we are again concerned to hear that this accommodation model will not be available for women, who have clearly been sidelined in this justice reinvestment project.

“It appears that the focus on male detainees is a result of projects designed to reduce reoffending for only the majority prison population group.

“The government must also ensure bail accommodation is an effective transitional solution, not subject to over-securitisation and with clear exit pathways.”

For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.