Construction is expected to begin in the next 12 months on an 80-bed minimum security prison – or ‘reintegration centre’ – outside the wire at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, with $35 million allocated to it in today’s ACT Budget.
Design work is already underway on the centre, which ACT Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said will house both men and women and aims to support AMC inmates in transitioning back to the community.
The $35 million makes up the biggest chunk of $70.9 million in ‘justice reinvestment’ funding in the 2019 Budget for initiatives such as more supported housing for former detainees, expanding the bail support program, boosting staff numbers at the AMC and establishing a research team to reduce recidivism.
“The direction of this budget strategy is to reduce re-offending, to help people put their lives back on track, put them on new trajectories, avoid the need to just keep expanding the jail and make the community safer,” Mr Rattenbury said.
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“Justice reinvestment is honest about the reality of incarceration in Australia. While crime rates are going down, incarceration rates are going up. The most just justice system is a system that acts early to help prevent the kinds of circumstances that can lead to crime in the first place.
“With the right rehabilitation opportunities and interventions, we believe we can make a real difference to address offending behaviour.”
In February this year, the ACT Government announced that instead of expanding Canberra’s crowded prison, it would redirect $14.5 million in funding to community and rehabilitation programs, including a purpose-built ‘reintegration centre’.
The plan has been a source of contention for the corrections’ union which is concerned about the need to relieve the situation at the AMC which is at capacity, with more than 500 inmates.
The $35 million in budget funding will go toward constructing and staffing the new facility, as well as delivering support programs for residents.
The government said the new facility will increase the range of rehabilitation programs available to detainees, with the programs to be delivered in partnership with non-government organisations.
The enhanced programs will include trauma and relationship counselling, alcohol, tobacco and other drug rehabilitation, and other training including job skills to support detainees to stay out of the justice system.
“It is a minimum security facility just as you see with prison farms and the like in NSW,” said Mr Rattenbury.
“We are anticipating having a mix of men and women because both categories obviously have minimum security prisoners.
“We need to think carefully about how we design that to ensure safety for both groups and we’ll work with some of our community partners – people like the Human Rights Commission and some of the service providers – to get some advice on how to do that.”
The ACT has the highest rate of return prison episodes in Australia, with about three-quarters of detainees at the AMC having been there before – compared to a national average of 57 per cent.
The ACT Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement includes a commitment to reduce recidivism by 25 per cent by 2025, with the Government allocating $3.2 million in the budget to develop a ‘world-class’ research team to help them with the task.
Other initiatives to receive funding in the 2019-20 ACT Budget will include:
- Providing more supported housing for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved with the criminal justice system. Funding of $13 million has been allocated over the next three years.
- Expanding the ACT Bail Support Program to strengthen accommodation and employment options for people on bail. An additional $1.3 million has been allocated.
- Boosting staff capacity at the AMC to improve sentence management and post-release planning. The Government said it will also deliver more custodial staff and additional services to ensure a safe and secure environment for the increased number of detainees at the AMC.