3 February 2021

Assaults on corrections officers increase five-fold, AMC now Australia's most expensive prison

| Dominic Giannini
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The ACT has the most expensive prison per person in the country. Photo: File.

Assaults against corrections officers increased five-fold in the past year, jumping from 0.41 assaults per 100 prisoners to 2.25 in a year, a 450 per cent increase, according to 2019-20 Productivity Commission data.

Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults also increased from 9 per 100 prisoners to 13 while the number of serious assaults against other prisoners dropped from a peak of 3.3 per hundred prisoners to 1.8 in the latest reporting period.

An ACT Government spokesperson said that the majority of the staff assaults were conducted by a single inmate.

“It is disappointing that detainee-on-staff assaults have increased this year from a low base; however, examination of the data shows that a majority of these assaults were perpetrated by one detainee who receives intensive support through both ACT Corrective Services and Justice Health Services,” the spokesperson said.

“The increased rate of prisoner-on-staff assaults is not indicative of an overall increase of violence towards staff across the AMC.”

Officers have previously detailed what it is like to work in the AMC, citing a tinderbox of tensions leading to high staff absenteeism and low morale.

One officer had his neck broken on duty after attending to a prisoner who was having a drug-induced psychotic episode and three others have sought care in mental hospitals this year due to job-related stress, one prison officer told Region Media.

READ MORE Poor discipline and violence inside AMC has guards at breaking point: whistleblower

The most recent Justice and Community Safety Directorate annual report stated that “the rate of serious assaults of a prisoner by another prisoner in the ACT continued to be high compared to other states and the Northern Territory”.

ACT Policing figures show that officers attended the prison 35 times for incidents of assault and once for a sexual assault incident between 1 November 2019 and 31 October 2020.

The ACT also jumped to the top spot for prison spending per person, with lockup costs increasing to just below $560 per prisoner per day in 2019-20, up from $305 the year before, which was down from the $352 it cost in 2011-12, according to the Productivity Commission.

Across Australia, it cost $331 a day to keep a prisoner locked up in 2019-20.

The ACT Government said the per person increase can be attributed to a decrease in the prison population, which fell from 484 a day in 2018-29 to 443 in 2019-20, the lowest daily average in half a decade.

“The average daily cost metric includes variable costs incurred directly in housing each prisoner, in addition to fixed costs incurred by wider operations at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) so the increase in daily costs per detainee over 2019-20 is partly due to the reduction in detainee numbers,” they said.

The cost to house a prisoner falls to $420 per prisoner per day when real net operating expenditure is used – where revenue from corrective services, such as prison industries, is deducted – but remains the highest in Australia, almost $100 higher than second-place Tasmania.

The daily price tag for a prisoner came in at $247 a day nationally using the same methodology.

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One of the reasons given to build the AMC was to reduce costs of having ACT prisoners in NSW. Now it has the highest cost per prisoner in Australia. Violent, high maintenance, high cost individual prisoners should be sent to high security prisons in NSW where they can be secured at less cost and less risk to staff, prisoners and themselves.

Another first for the ACT Labor/Greens government.

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