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Why a young man’s death in prison matters

The AMC is our prison. It is operated and managed on our behalf and in our names. Photo: Andrew Finch

“I think it regrettable that neither the Minister nor relevant officers have referred to the dead man by his name. I find that dehumanising and disrespectful and unnecessarily hurtful to his family,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

THE tragic death by his own hand of a young man on his first day in the Alexander Maconochie Centre appears not to have aroused the interest of the Canberra community. 

Jon Stanhope.

However, his death earlier this month should be a matter of concern to us all. The AMC is our prison. It is operated and managed on our behalf and in our names. 

The ACT government has chosen not to disclose the man’s name. Still in his twenties, it has been reported that he died by hanging in a cell in the “Management Unit” at the prison on the first day of his imprisonment. The Management Unit is reserved, among other things, for the housing of newly admitted detainees. 

Newly admitted detainees are held in the unit in order to ensure that, in the difficult early days of their incarceration, they are kept under close observation and their welfare and safety assured. 

It is generally accepted that a person sentenced to imprisonment is at the greatest risk of self-harm in the first highly traumatic days. That is why, before being admitted into the prison they participate in an induction process designed to ensure, in part, that any vulnerability they may have, such as suicidal ideation is identified and responded to appropriately.

That he died in such tragic circumstances in the Management Unit on his first day of imprisonment raises potentially concerning questions. The failure of the ACT government or ACT Corrective Services to provide any information about or comment on the death or its cause is also of serious concern. 

I also think it regrettable that neither the Minister nor relevant officers have referred to the dead man by his name. I find that dehumanising and disrespectful and unnecessarily hurtful to his family.

It is also regrettable that, more than a week after his death, in a government facility in which he was in the sole care and control of the ACT government, that no member of the government has commiserated publicly with either his parents, family or friends.

I have been advised that as a first-day detainee, he would or should have been subjected to physical observation on a half hourly basis and that he should also have been under constant monitoring by CCTV. I hope that was the case.

Coincidentally, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, an independent and possibly the most significant non-government human rights organisation in the world, has in its latest world report, to Australia’s embarrassment, shone a torch on our abysmal record in relation to the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples.

While I say to “Australia’s embarrassment” we in Canberra must accept that while the ACT government managed to avoid the ignominy of being outed by Human Rights Watch as having the worst record in Australia, if not the world, when it comes to locking up indigenous peoples, we can take no comfort from that omission.

The ACT government recently reported that there were 377 people detained in the AMC. Of that number, it is understood that 128, or 34 per cent, were Aboriginal. Aboriginal people constitute less than two per cent of the ACT population hence the current rate of indigenous incarceration in the ACT clearly remains, if these numbers have been maintained, the highest in Australia.

Talking about numbers, the Productivity Commission has over recent weeks released its “2022 Reports on Government Services” (ROGS). These are fascinating reports for anyone interested in how the ACT compares with the rest of Australia in the delivery of mainstream services. I recommend you take a look.

The first of the reports I looked at is that relating to child protection services. My interest in the issue has been heightened by the reliance which ACT government ministers place on the commissioning of the “Our Booris Our Way Inquiry” into child protection as evidence of their commitment to address the massive over-representation of Aboriginal children in care and protection. 

I am cynical about those claims primarily because it is now five years since the review was announced, with enormous fanfare, and not one of its 28 recommendations has been fully implemented.

Therefore, it is particularly depressing to again note, in the 2022 ROGS, the lack of progress in the ACT in addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the care and protection system. When the “Our Booris” review was announced in 2017, ie five years ago, there were 252 Aboriginal children on care and protection orders in the ACT, a rate of 88.7 per 1000 children (the second highest rate in Australia), while the non-Aboriginal rate was 7.2 per 1000. 

The most recent report reveals that in the five years since then the number of Aboriginal children under a care and protection order in the ACT has increased to 269 and the rate has also increased to 89.8 per 1000 children, which is currently the third highest in Australia.

Jon Stanhope was ACT chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns on

If this column has raised any issues for any reader a call to Lifeline might be beneficial on 131114.


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Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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One Response to Why a young man’s death in prison matters

Shobha Varkey says: March 3, 2022 at 7:45 am

I am shocked and appalled at the statistics of children in care and protection in First Nations children and that ACT is the third highest in Australia. I am also very concerned that a young man in his twenties took his own life in the first day of being incarcerated in the AMC. This is disgraceful lack of management and the Minister snd the media are not dealing with the issues here. We need to prevent such occurrences and tragedy.


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