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Canberra Today 8°/10° | Monday, July 4, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

There’s something rotten in the state of our prison

The Alexander Maconochie Centre… Underlying the policy failures and poor outcomes, ACT Corrections is facing a growing barrage of lawsuits by current and past AMC detainees alleging the breaching of their human rights.

“It’s concerning that neither the current or previous corrections ministers, or for that matter the Chief Minister, has responded to allegations of drug use by prison officers and fraternisation with female detainees and ex-detainees,” says columnist JON STANHOPE.

I RECENTLY re-read several documents about justice and corrections, issued not so long ago by the then Minister for Justice and Corrections, ACT Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury.

Jon Stanhope.

The documents reflect a determination to transform the administration of justice and the management of corrective services in a significant way. 

I have no reason for thinking that Mr Rattenbury was anything but sincere and genuine in his stated aims. It is because I am sure that he was genuine, that he sincerely wanted to transform the Alexander Maconochie Centre to ensure that it did reflect the visionary charter that was the genesis of its establishment, that I feel so sorry for him as he reflects, as I am sure he does, on the dysfunctional shambles of a corrections system that he bequeathed, just over a year ago, in what must have been deep despair and embarrassment, to the current minister, Mick Gentleman.

At the apex of the myriad apparent failings associated with the management of the AMC and corrections more generally, are the recent allegations made by a retired senior prison officer, and reported in the “CityNews”, of drug use by prison officers and fraternisation by officers with female detainees and ex-detainees. 

It is asserted by that retired senior officer, who is now resident in NZ, that these issues were not given the attention by management that he believed they warranted (he says, in fact, that they were simply ignored) and that they are currently under consideration by the ACT Integrity Commission.

It is concerning that neither the current or immediate past minister for corrections, or for that matter the Chief Minister, has responded to the allegations, let alone provided assurances that the issues raised are deemed of sufficient importance to warrant the attention of the Integrity Commission or the ACT Police. 

If these allegations are not being vigorously pursued by the Integrity Commission or the police, then why not and if not, then the Commission may as well be disbanded. If the matter is being pursued by the Integrity Commission, why not say so. The cat’s out of the bag so why the secrecy?

But I digress. Some of the documents I refer to above are “Reducing Recidivism in the ACT by 25 per cent by 2025”, “Parliamentary and Governing Agreement”, Press Release Feb 2018 – “Nation-leading justice reinvestment focus as Canberra moves to ‘build communities, not prisons’” and the ACT Greens’ Aboriginal Affairs election manifesto for the 2020 ACT election.

It is not unkind to assert, it is simply the truth, that barely a single promise or commitment to change or improvement in outcomes in corrective services, contained in any of these policy documents has been achieved. 

For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has recently reported that the recidivism rate of Aboriginal peoples imprisoned in the ACT is currently 94 per cent and is higher than last year. The ABS has also reported that the ACT now has the highest rate of indigenous incarceration in Australia and in the 10 years from 2011 to 2021, when Rattenbury was corrections minister, the ACT had the highest rate of increase in indigenous incarceration in Australia.

In addition, Rattenbury’s much publicised “Building Communities Not Prisons” initiative came to an unexplained but shuddering halt when the government reluctantly confessed that the centrepiece of the initiative, an $80 million rehabilitation focused “reintegration centre” at the AMC has been abandoned. Along the way there have, in recent years at the AMC, been riots, fires and sundry other disturbances.

Underlying the policy failures and poor outcomes, ACT Corrections is facing a growing barrage of lawsuits by current and past AMC detainees alleging the breaching of their human rights. In just the last few weeks the ACT Supreme Court ruled in favour of one of the growing number of plaintiffs suing the ACT government, in finding that his human rights had been blatantly and repeatedly breached. 

It would not be surprising to see some of the matters currently before the Supreme Court morph into class actions. 

Moreover, the AMC suffered, just three months ago, the death of an inmate. A young man on remand who, it appears, committed suicide in his cell at the prison on the day of his incarceration. There are several very serious questions to be answered in connection with this tragic death.

What this all suggests, to borrow a phrase, is that there is something rotten in the management of the AMC. The allegations of drug use and ill discipline among prison staff at the AMC remain, as far as we know, as no more than allegations. 

However, they are of a very serious nature and surely any suggestion that senior ACT government officials were briefed on the matters alleged but that no action ensued, requires an immediate and full response from the relevant ministers and the Chief Minister, including the extent and nature of their involvement. The community is surely, as a minimum, entitled to that.

Assuming the Integrity Commission is looking into this matter it would also be of interest to the community to know which ministers, if any, have been summoned to appear before the Commission and if their cross examination will, a la Gladys Berejiklian, be publicly broadcast.

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Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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2 Responses to There’s something rotten in the state of our prison

Richard Parker says: June 8, 2022 at 12:09 pm

Might I be so bold as to point out that Stanhope was Chief Minister when key decisions were made – such as the decision to build a prison half the recommended size (employing a tame consultant to say that 300 beds would be just fine); and setting a budget for a “world class” rehabilitation centre that didn’t include funding for ANY program facilitators!

Both these mistakes set the scene for robbing Peter to pay Paul. The outcome was entirely predictable back in 2006, which was when I jumped into a lifeboat.

M. Norunberg says: June 9, 2022 at 7:14 am

At this stage the allegations of drug use among a significant number of staff are unproven, for now. Despite one of City News’ reporters sighting the some of the ‘evidence’. The previous Minister is on record stating that the Department has the power to drug test the prison officers. For the sake of the remainder of faith the public has in this Cheech & Chong department, surely random drug and alcohol testing of staff is happening right now.


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