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Canberra Today 17°/22° | Monday, March 4, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Protect women from prison predators, says Tongs

 AN INDIGENOUS health leader is calling on the ACT government to guarantee that female inmates at Canberra’s jail are safe from predatory prison officers.

It follows disturbing allegations revealed by “CityNews” of inappropriate relationships between prison officers and female detainees and ex-detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC).

Winnunga CEO Julie Tongs.

In “CityNews” on May 12, Tim Rust – a former senior director of operations at Canberra’s prison – blew the lid on a long-standing culture of drug taking and inappropriate behaviour among some corrections officers.

Rust’s allegations – which have been referred to the ACT Integrity Commission –  include cocaine-fuelled staff parties, hot-tub photos with senior and junior prison staff, an affair with an ex-inmate and attempts by prison authorities not to fully investigate the substance of the matters.

Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, said she was deeply “concerned” by the allegations and has written to three key ACT ministers seeking an assurance that female detainees are safe.

The ministers are ACT Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman, Minister for Women Yvette Berry and Minister for Human Rights Tara Cheyne.

“I’m calling on the ACT Government to guarantee the safety of the women detained in the AMC,” Tongs said.

“Consideration should be given to releasing the women into the community and/or that every possible step be taken to ensure their safety, including the banning of any contact between male prison officers and female detainees.”

Tongs said her concerns about the management and culture of the AMC were exacerbated by claims made by ex-wives of former prison officers who recently told “CityNews” that their husbands were having affairs with inmates.

“If the allegations are true I cannot imagine a more egregious example of a breach by a government of its duty of care and protection to people in its care and under its control,” Tongs wrote on Facebook.

“I also find it extremely disturbing that no indication has been given by any member of the ACT Government, or indeed by anyone, that the allegations concerning inappropriate relationships between prison officers and women detained in the prison have been referred to the Integrity Commission and ACT Policing.”

Tongs said she was equally concerned by Rust’s claims of a drug-fuelled party culture amongst some prison staff.

“I’m shocked at the possibility that ACT Government employees working at the AMC, the ACT’s only adult prison, would openly engage in an activity, namely the possession and use of an illegal substance for which many of the detainees under their control are serving a term of imprisonment,” she said.

“A serious further issue raised by the allegation, if it is in fact true, is from whom are the drugs purchased and to what extent are the purchasers compromised or susceptible to blackmail if the drugs were, for example, purchased from an outlaw motorcycle gang, members of which are serving a term of imprisonment in the AMC.”

Tongs is yet to receive a response from the ACT government.





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Belinda Strahorn

Belinda Strahorn

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