How Shane fudged around an inconvenient truth

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“Most damning is that an Aboriginal person in the ACT is 18.9 times more likely to go to prison than a non-Aboriginal person. Surely, the minister should have commented on that,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

ANOTHER year, another raft of reports from the Productivity Commission about government services. The ROGS, as they are benignly known, are greeted each January with trepidation by all state and territory governments.

Jon Stanhope.

The ROGS are little more than sets of tables, but what they do that renders them so fearful is allow an almost instant comparison of each state and territory’s performance in almost every aspect of government service delivery with not only every other state and territory government but also with its own performance in each year of the last decade or so.

Adding to the menace the ROGS present to a faltering government, the Productivity Commission takes what I have always thought a somewhat malicious delight in drip feeding the reports out over a couple of weeks thus both encouraging journalists to actually read each report as well as inhibiting a government’s chances of successfully burying the reports by, say, re-announcing plans to build a new football stadium.

Ministers and their loyal departments work hard to emphasise the positives and ignore the negatives. It has, of course, always been thus.

The ACT government response to this year’s ROGS report on justice is a classic of the genre. The response came in the form of a joint press release from the three responsible ministers: Police Minister Mick Gentleman, Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay and Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury.

The press release, dated January 29, referred to a number of highlights from the ROGS.

Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury… “The ACT continues to be a leader in detainee education and training.”

Following is an example, a claim made by Mr Rattenbury about the allegedly Australian-leading education and training programs at the AMC. I have also included an extract from the report tabled before Christmas by Mr Neil McAllister, the ACT Inspector of Corrections in which he provides his assessment of the very same data on education referenced by Mr Rattenbury but comes to a strikingly different conclusion.

Minister for Corrections, Shane Rattenbury:

“The ACT remains the strongest performing jurisdiction for participation in detainee education and training. The ACT continues to be a leader in detainee education and training and is committed to supporting skill development to help detainees transition or return to the workforce and community.”

Inspector of Correctional Services Neil McAllister, November 2019, “Report of a Review of the AMC”:

Neil McAllister, the ACT Inspector of Corrections… “On its face, this data looks dreadful…”

“The ACT has consistently recorded the highest proportion of eligible prisoners engaged in training and education in Australia. While the data is impressive it should be noted that ROGS reports on enrolments rather than completions.

“In 2018/19, 108 detainees received 129 education awards. Of these 129 awards only six were for the completion of a certificate level course. The other 123 awards were statements of attainment for completing some subjects or undertaking short, non-accredited courses.”

“On its face, this data looks dreadful…” 

“There are systemic factors that impact on the delivery of education at the AMC… Including:

. Detainees cherry picking bits of courses and then dropping out;

.Unscheduled lock-ins that can result in non-attendance at class

. Detainees’ difficulties in attending class due to the requirement to move under staff escort

.Detainees’ difficulties completing take-home work books as a result of being in doubled up cells for at least 16 hours a day.”

Mr McAllister further reported that in a survey he conducted of detainee views on education and training in the AMC that 77 per cent of detainees said that the education programs on offer did not meet their needs.

Mr McAllister quoted a male detainee who summarised the views of detainees in the following words: 

“Most detainees are so disheartened by the education offering that in our area less than a dozen (of around 35) attend education once a week. Of those half go to art class to paint. This is not accredited, and none of the current group are indigenous or selling any work. A few are attending barista or IT classes… “

The inspector added: “We will continue to be told that what is on offer is wide ranging and adequate. But not only is it discouraging to the detainees while they are in prison (‘there’s nothing to do’) and fails to provide them a sense of self-worth or progress – it is my firm opinion that on the whole prisoners are walking out the gate with the same lack of employable skills as they had when they came in.”

I can’t quite decide who to believe. Can you?

I should add the most damning outcome revealed in the ROGS corrective services report is that the ACT has the highest age standardised ratio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison in Australia and the second highest crude ratio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison with an Aboriginal person in the ACT 18.9 times more likely to go to prison than a non-Aboriginal person. 

Surely, the minister should have commented on that.

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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.

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