The Government’s restorative justice centrepiece from the 2019-2020 budget is in doubt after being put on hold.
The 80-bed minimum security reintegration centre had an allocation of $35 million to build and staff the facility and provide prisoner programs.
The project formed part of the ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate’s plan to reduce recidivism rates in the ACT by 25 per cent by 2025 through developing and implementing programs focused on rehabilitation and reintegration.
But some prisoners at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) have been told that ACT Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman does not want to proceed with the planned construction, and the project has been put on ice, Region Media understands.
Minister Gentleman told Region Media he is “considering options to best meet the needs of detainees and staff” when asked if the program is being scrapped.
The project, which was to be built adjacent to the prison, includes an expansion and modification of existing buildings, five new two-storey buildings, which include a new entry and administration building, and fencing.
It is opposed by the Prison Officers’ Union, which is concerned about overcrowding at AMC.
Construction was originally expected to begin on the cottage-style facility by mid-2020 and completed by 2022. A development application was lodged in July 2020, but no tender went out.
Despite the delays, Minister Gentleman said the centre remains funded in the ACT Budget.
Shadow Corrections Minister Elizabeth Kikkert called on the Government to be more transparent about what their plans are for the centre.
“If funding remains in the budget, but there is no current tender the government needs to come clean and tell Canberrans what their plan is and what options they are considering,” she said.
“We now have a government that can’t handle adequate staff training on their own, a transitional release centre that has been described as a joke by the people it is meant to serve and a reintegration centre that has been put on ice.”
The transitional release centre (TRC), which the Reintegration Centre is intended to expand, was originally constructed in 2009 with 20 beds, but complaints have been raised recently about its limiting eligibility criteria.
Nine male and three female detainees used the transitional release program to transition out of custody and back into the community in 2019-2020. There were 539 releases of detainees on remand and 336 releases of sentenced detainees in the same period.
Only male detainees are housed in the TRC, while female detainees complete the program from their usual cells.
ACT Corrective Services told Region Media in January 2021 it was investigating the effectiveness of the TRC to increase access.