The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has said that the 2022 Healthy Prison Review has highlighted serious issues with Canberra’s prison, including inadequate access to education and activities, major gaps in the provision of basic healthcare, inadequate infrastructure and inappropriate services for women
The report, tabled today in the ACT Legislative Assembly by the ACT Office of the Inspector of Correctional Services (OICS), concluded that overall, the situation for both detainees and staff at the Alexander Maconochie Centre had ‘deteriorated’.
ACTCOSS Head of Policy, Dr Gemma Killen said: “ACTCOSS commends the OICS for conducting a meaningful and detailed review of the AMC, including wide consultation with detainees themselves. This is a vital step in ensuring appropriate oversight for the AMC.”
While recognising the challenges presented by COVID-19, as well as more recent efforts to bring about structural reform and improvements to the AMC, the report highlighted major challenges including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT were 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and more likely to be subject to Use of Force incidents, segregation orders and to be placed under maximum security classifications
- 44% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees responded that their needs as an Aboriginal person were never being met
- Besides limited vocational training, there has been no education provision in the AMC since September 2021, and in the last 12 months, only 16% of detainees were offered Vocational Education and Training Courses
- Very little structure or opportunity to participate in education, activities and employment meant 79% of detainees experienced boredom most of the time, inhibiting their rehabilitation and chances of a successful reintegration upon release
- Detainees reported that they were waiting up to eight weeks to see a doctor and experienced ongoing issues accessing necessary mental healthcare and prescribed psychotropic medications
- Women detainees in AMC reported frequent cancellation of activities, a lack of protective accommodation options and little understanding of the diversity of their needs
- Since being returned to the Women’s Community Centre accommodations in June 2021, the Women’s Health Service Trauma Counsellor has no longer provided vital support to women in the AMC
- While progress has been made at the policy level, the report stated that detainees with disability experienced a lack of support for daily living and personal care tasks.
Dr Killen acknowledged the difficulties that AMC detainees and staff had faced over the last few years but said many of the issues highlighted were not related to the COVID-19 pandemic and welcomed key recommendations from the OICS aimed at improving the situation in the prison including:
- For ACT Corrective Services to create a senior level Aboriginal identified head office position to lead and drive policy and operational approaches to reduce the disadvantages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees
- For ACTCS to implement a strategy to remove barriers to participation in distance tertiary education, including interim measures for detainees who are currently enrolled
- The introduction of expert-informed induction materials to increase information accessibility for detainees with disability, including video and Easy Read materials
- For ACTCS to develop a strategy to prevent, track and respond to incidents of sexual coercion and violence
- Refurbishment and expansion of healthcare facilities and increased access to telehealth
Dr Killen said: “ACTCOSS welcomes these recommendations and calls on the ACT Government to fully address the worsening problems experienced by AMC detainees in vital areas such as education, health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-representation and women’s safety.
“These recommendations reflect the community’s aspirations for the ACT’s prison – one that provides equivalence of care and decent services and protections for detainees, a safe and meaningful work environment for staff and a rehabilitative environment that delivers for our community.
“While the quality of rehabilitative services, accessibility and detainee safety in the AMC remains a concern, we commend OICS’ thorough consultation, as well as detainees and staff for their participation in the process,” Dr Killen concluded.
ACTCOSS is calling on the ACT Government to respond to all 29 of the report’s recommendations, and look forward to working with the community sector, the OICS, and other oversight bodies to monitor the implementation and progress of these recommendations.