The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services’ annual report has raised concerns about allocated funding levels given an increased workload, additional facilities to manage and major critical incidents to review following a spate of troubles at the prison.
Inspector Neil McAllister’s opening remarks in his 2020-21 report also pinpointed issues with staffing levels falling year-on-year.
The OICS’s role is to promote continual improvement of ACT correctional centres and youth justice facilities. It has jurisdiction over the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), Court Transport Unit and Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.
It’s also tasked with reviewing critical incidents such as riots, fires, and assaults at these facilities.
Given the AMC’s recent troubled history, the OICS has been kept busy.
In November 2020, a major riot at the prison caused $5.7 million in damage, and the subsequent OICS report revealed less than 10 per cent of prison staff had been effectively trained to deal with the major riot in 2020.
This was followed by another revolt in May of this year, as well as a hostage-taking incident.
“In terms of the damage caused and operational impact, these incidents were the most significant I have reviewed so far in my time as Inspector,” Mr McAllister’s report read.
He subsequently made several recommendations directed at “organisation-level response preparedness”.
Minister for Correctional Services Mick Gentleman also referred an additional matter to the OICS to review – the use of force to conduct a strip search on a female detainee.
Mr McAllister’s investigation had found that while the initial decision to strip search the detainee had a lawful basis, the use of force was not used as a last resort and did breach regulations.
“We note that the decision to conduct a forced strip search was not an approach that all staff were entirely comfortable with,” Mr McAllister said previously. The report recommended the AMC end mandatory strip searches and procure additional body scanners.
According to its report, in the 2020-21 reporting period, seven ‘critical incidents’ occurred at the AMC, five of which required subsequent reviewing.
But Mr McAllister said in his report that his office was only funded to review one critical incident per year.
“It is clearly apparent again this year that critical incident review functions are taking up more of my operational budget than was originally envisaged,” he said.
His report also noted his overall staffing complement had decreased slightly year-on-year, despite it still awaiting additional funding to take on oversight of Bimberi.
Mr McAllister said he had previously flagged as an issue that his “office was never funded to carry out oversight of youth justice facilities”.
“If my office is designated as NPM [National Preventive Mechanism] for adult and youth justice facilities it is concerning to me that we do not have sufficient funding to make our ASO6 position an ongoing one,” the report read.
“Instead, we fund this temporary position out of our operational budget, which is less than ideal.”
This had been the first year the OICS had oversight of Bimberi, and so significant resources had also been directed to conducting a major Healthy Prison Review of the centre.
A significant concern raised by the review was that children were in full view of security cameras while being strip-searched, showering or changing clothes.
The report has 93 findings and made 27 recommendations.
A review of the Court Transport Unit was also undertaken, which had found the officers in charge of transporting prisoners are not familiar with emergency management procedures, are uneasy about working with children and young people, and some have not completed mandatory training courses.
It also raised questions about the suitability of transport vehicles used.
The report did not cover the alleged prison break in Kingston on 9 July 2021, which occurred after the reporting period.
The whole of centre Healthy Prison Review of the AMC will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly by December 2022.
“Given that whole of centre reviews are a large body of work, preparation and planning will be a significant activity for the office in the 2021–22 reporting period,” Mr McAllister’s report read.