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Alexander Maconochie Centre – a complex challenge

By John Hargreaves - 30 March 2015 20

amc

I have written many times on corrective services in relation to rehabilitative and restorative processes, and the lack of them, concerning offenders and victims.

Perhaps it is timely to revisit the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), which may have escaped public notice and attention and may give context to further conversations on the subject of how Canberra deals with the consequences of sentencing by the courts.

The AMC prison project was ambitious. As a small jurisdiction, we have always had a small number of incarcerated offenders compared with other states and territories and this means we have issues with economies of scale.

We needed to either provide a complex system for a complex problem or dissect the categories and farm them out somehow.

Those categories were the three levels of security, low, medium and high; protection (for separation of prisoners for their own safety); cultural mixes; types of crime such as white collar, sexual offences, child sex offence, traffic and nonviolent, crimes against the person; and length of sentence.

We also had to cater for prisoners who were on remand in the categories of remand before appearance and remand for sentence. The complication here is that the prisoner on remand for appearance is actually innocent until proven guilty, yet the prisoner on remand for sentence is guilty but no penalty has yet been imposed and sometimes this can result in a non-custodial sentence and the offender is released on a bond of sorts.

Overlaid on all of these was the gender mix.

The above gives the reader a sense of the complication of the project given the numbers. The numbers in 2004 or so were about 195 male prisoners with 8 female prisoners. Now there are well over 300, but this is still small in comparison to other jurisdictions and smaller still when broken down into component parts.

The AMC project was further complicated by the need to provide rehabilitative and restorative programs for the various groups and also the transitional release programs, the therapeutic programs for current and former drug addicts, and a through-care model for the transition to the community post release, all with the economy of scale challenge.

Most people just saw the prison as a form of accommodation where people went after sentencing, sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a lengthy time. They didn’t understand that we could have people in prison for life, for ten years or for six months.

In fact, the average sentence was between three and six months. This was seen as a challenge because corrective services literature said that effective rehabilitative programs need at least 12 months to be successful.

A further challenge was that it was generally accepted that for successful attitudinal change, men respond one on one whereas women respond in groups. But there was not the critical mass of female prisoners of like security classification to develop a sustainable program for them. This remains a challenge.

Another challenge was the issue of either remand or sentenced prisoners with significant drug withdrawal issues. This needed to be managed sensitively and under appropriate medical supervision. People are in crisis when coming down from a full on drug issue or addiction and behavioural problems accompany that journey.

One interesting development that occurred was the creation of a health centre within the grounds of the prison. It is not part of the corrective services set of programs and run by ACT Health. In this way prisoners are treated as ordinary members of the community and their health is paramount.

This has, I hope, given the reader a short picture of the challenges facing the AMC and corrective services in general. It is not intended to be comprehensive and I can write on each element of the issues indicated above. Indeed, should any reader want further comment, I’d be grateful and happy to respond.

I have noticed that criticism has been levelled at the prison on the basis of overcrowding and recidivism rates. This has been outrageous. Political comment has been laced with convenient popularism.

Most of the prisoners in the AMC have made a mistake or have been under the iron fist of addiction and deserve our help and compassion. They do not deserve ostracism and condemnation.

That should be reserved for habitually violent criminals and paedophiles. These are the minority in the AMC.

The ACT should be proud that we have accepted our community responsibility to look after our own offenders and have brought them home to their families.

What’s Your opinion?


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20 Responses to
Alexander Maconochie Centre – a complex challenge
Girl_Friday 9:40 am 02 Apr 15

James_Ryan said :

Please stop pretending that the AMC is a human rights compliant prison.

It’s not. The current Justice Minister has admitted that, so everybody else should get used to it too.

Wash your mouth out with soap. The regular good news stories on WIN tell us that the ACT prison is a model human rights compliant facility. It should count for nothing that they always seem to come from within the government. I for one am certain that the historically high reoffending rates and growing prisoner numbers is simply part of an expected behaviour change trajectory.

I am also very willing to believe there is also a great reason for the near constant recruitment advertisements seeking Corrections department staff in the last couple of years.

James_Ryan 11:40 pm 01 Apr 15

Please stop pretending that the AMC is a human rights compliant prison.

It’s not. The current Justice Minister has admitted that, so everybody else should get used to it too.

gazket 7:48 pm 01 Apr 15

“Many of the prisoners in the AMC are graduates of the Goulburn Prison Academy and thus are the ambassadors of a draconian system. One would expect their recidivism rate to dramatically affect the reported overall rate for the AMC”

wtf? That’s feeble excuse

There are “well over 300 prisoners” , ex Goulburn inmate elders must have a lot of influence on the younger generation . I would of thought the younger generation would be showing the old boys a few tricks.

Dam you iron fist of addiction

Proboscus 3:27 pm 01 Apr 15

John said: “And on the issue of human rights compliance, it is not acceptable to incarcerate people with only an hour of the day in sunshine, it is not compliant to ignore the cultural needs and the medical needs of people incarcerated.”

Which jails do this? Example please.

John said: “Compliance means having no barbed wire, no concrete flooring; it means having nutritional meals, it means allowing plenty of exercise; it means allowing visits from family.

It does not accept abuse of prisoners, maltreatment, denigration, bullying and violence, all of which were present in Goulburn when we took our prisoners away from them.”

Is the AMC made with papier-mâché? As for the meals, exercise and visits from family, which jails don’t allow these? And some true examples of maltreatment, denigration, bullying and violence that you claim happened in Goulburn?

John said: “It is easy to treat all prisoners as if they were Ivan Milat but this is wrong. Some people stuff things up and pay dearly for it. We need to help them not turn them into hardened and recidivist criminals.

How do the recidivism rates compare between the Human Rights compliant AMC and the draconian jails you saved our poor prisoners from?

John Hargreaves 12:57 pm 01 Apr 15

And on the issue of human rights compliance, it is not acceptable to incarcerate people with only an hour of the day in sunshine, it is not compliant to ignore the cultural needs and the medical needs of people incarcerated.

Human rights compliance means respecting a human being whilst at the same time addressing their aberrant behaviours.

Compliance means having no barbed wire, no concrete flooring; it means having nutritional meals, it means allowing plenty of exercise; it means allowing visits from family.

It does not accept abuse of prisoners, maltreatment, denigration, bullying and violence, all of which were present in Goulburn when we took our prisoners away from them.

It is easy to treat all prisoners as if they were Ivan Milat but this is wrong. Some people stuff things up and pay dearly for it. We need to help them not turn them into hardened and recidivist criminals.

John Hargreaves 12:52 pm 01 Apr 15

The costs per institution differ according to the type of institution. For example, a prison for medium security males will be one figure whereas a prison with a mixture of high, and medium security prisoners will be another. Similarly, the issue with prisons with only female prisoners will differ from those for males.

An added dimension is where there is a transitional prison where prisoners are on day leave to work and return at night, similar to a prison farm.

the Productivity Commission publishes comparison figures but I don’t agree with the methodology because each jurisdiction has different approaches to corrective service programs. In one remand prison in Brisbane for example, when I visited it I spoke to the guy in charge who said they didn’t have a drug problem because they had a zero tolerance attitude and the new guys just had to put up with the symptoms of withdrawal and suck it up. And this was a remand prison not a prison for sentenced males.

The issue for the ACT is that it has a mixture of both genders and remand as well as sentenced prisoners of all security classifications. Further the comparisons don’t take into account economies of scale.

However, when comparing costs one needs to include calculations of the cost to the community if the prison was not there, including the human cost.

I argue that when all is calculated, it is economically responsible to have a prison with effective programs than to export our offenders to NSW.

Proboscus 5:11 pm 31 Mar 15

John Hargreaves said :

Thanks for the comments.

Not all jails are Human Rights compliant. In fact few are. The AMC was the first. The closest are Lotus Glen in Qld near Mareeba for prison farm inmates and Mt Gambier in SA run by Group 4 for medium security classification males.

No one could seriously think that the prison in Townsville, Goulburn or Darwin were compliant. Neither is Alice Springs or Casuarina in Perth. Rison in Tas ia another.

All jails in Australia provide each prisoner three meals a day, clothing and shelter. If that’s not complying with the Human Rights Act, then what is?

MERC600 4:56 pm 31 Mar 15

I know its probably impolite to raise costs of our human rights compliant centre, but I will anyway.
Does anyone have the latest figures on how much this human rights compliance centre costs us ?

The only figures I could find are from a report on the NT’s expenditure, where part of it they mention the ACT’s daily cost per prisoner in 2012-13 was almost $465, while the national figure was $297.

John Hargreaves 4:39 pm 31 Mar 15

Thanks for the comments.

Not all jails are Human Rights compliant. In fact few are. The AMC was the first. The closest are Lotus Glen in Qld near Mareeba for prison farm inmates and Mt Gambier in SA run by Group 4 for medium security classification males.

No one could seriously think that the prison in Townsville, Goulburn or Darwin were compliant. Neither is Alice Springs or Casuarina in Perth. Rison in Tas ia another.

Spiral 7:41 am 31 Mar 15

John Hargreaves said :

Many of the prisoners in the AMC are graduates of the Goulburn Prison Academy and thus are the ambassadors of a draconian system. One would expect their recidivism rate to dramatically affect the reported overall rate for the AMC.

Surely that also applies to other gaols. The new prisoners are exposed to the “hardened” crims who have revolved through the system several times becoming more hardened on each rotation. How is the AMC different from other gaols?

John Hargreaves said :

I would be interested in the rates for those prisoners who have not been influenced by the Goulburn graduates and for whom the AMC is the first exposure to a prison system. Until these figures are extracted an overall judgment of the recidivism rates is imperfect.

Aaahhh! Now I get it. When the recidivism figures go against what you want they are outrageous and shouldn’t be used. When/if they support your view they will be valid and useful. And I thought you had retired from politics.

If they reject their former ways and get jobs and pay tax, the net return is the amount of prison cost not incurred plus the tax they have paid. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Agreed. But that can be a very very big IF.

So far the AMC seems to be doing a great job of sending them back into the community so they can inflict more harm on innocent members of the community. What is the net cost then?

Do you have on hand the figures for damage (property, medical, psychological etc) caused by recidivist guests of the AMC? Surely any cost/benefit analysis of the gaols success should include those figures, or is it a case of once out of the gates and out of sight, then out of mind?

Proboscus 8:08 pm 30 Mar 15

John Hargreaves said :

Oh… It was a human rights compliant jail, not a “complaint” jail.

John, all Australian jails are Human Rights compliant.

dungfungus 5:43 pm 30 Mar 15

“Most people just saw the prison as a form of accommodation where people went after sentencing,”

Ill probably get ridiculed again by the usual experts but I thought people were sent to gaol to protect the law abiding community from their criminal activities.
I know a couple of people who are currently in the AMC again. They told me when they were released previously that they can’t wait to get back in there again.

John Hargreaves 5:09 pm 30 Mar 15

Oh… It was a human rights compliant jail, not a “complaint” jail.

John Hargreaves 5:08 pm 30 Mar 15

A couple of points here.

Many of the prisoners in the AMC are graduates of the Goulburn Prison Academy and thus are the ambassadors of a draconian system. One would expect their recidivism rate to dramatically affect the reported overall rate for the AMC. I would be interested in the rates for those prisoners who have not been influenced by the Goulburn graduates and for whom the AMC is the first exposure to a prison system. Until these figures are extracted an overall judgment of the recidivism rates is imperfect.

Secondly, on the cost issue, prisons are costly beasts but if they are successful, even marginally so, they present an economic positive to the community. if an offender is incarcerated, he or she is not earning an income worth taxing. In other words the $300 or so a year spent on their incarceration is a total expense.

If they reject their former ways and get jobs and pay tax, the net return is the amount of prison cost not incurred plus the tax they have paid. Elementary, my dear Watson.

The main target is to restore the offender, the victims and the community so that everyone is a winner. Tough ask but worth the try.

Spiral 1:40 pm 30 Mar 15

I have noticed that criticism has been levelled at the prison on the basis of overcrowding and recidivism rates. This has been outrageous. Political comment has been laced with convenient popularism.

Not outrageous at all. When the gaol was set up it became obvious it was going to be expensive to run. It was claimed to be Australia’s first Human Rights Complaint Gaol (or something like that. I can’t remember the exact wording). We were assured the higher costs would be worth it because it would lead to a lower recidivism rate.

Well now it is obvious we have been taken for a ride. It is expensive and performs poorly. The trumpeted metric of superior recidivism rates (arguably the most important metric for any gaol) has failed to be met.

For people to now claim that the recidivism rates are not really important when that was a big selling feature to start with is, in my opinion, simply dishonest.

I bet that if in a couple of year’s time the recidivism rates dropped to half that of other Australian gaols you would be amongst those using that measure to sing the praises of the AMC.

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