A review of the Court Transport Unit (CTU) by the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services found that officers in charge of transporting prisoners are not familiar with emergency management procedures, are uneasy about working with children and young people, and some officers have not completed mandatory training courses.
The report also noted that one van used by the CTU needs to be replaced urgently due to poor maintenance standards and a design flaw that would make it near impossible to extract a detainee in a timely manner during an accident or fire.
Questions also linger over whether two other vehicles are fit for purpose as they would exceed their legal load weight if all the cells were full.
The review of the CTU conducted by Inspector Neil McAllister made 22 recommendations and found “a lack of up to date policies and procedures that detail the functions of the CTU and reflect the CTU’s operational requirements”.
“We spoke with many CTU officers and heard their major concerns about managing children and young people in their custody, particularly given their lack of training. This issue must be addressed,” Mr McAllister said.
“CTU officers also need more training specific to their job before they commence work and there are some mandatory training courses that have not been completed by current CTU officers.”
Officers said they would like more CTU-specific training, adding they were not prepared for situations where there could be numerous detainees in one cell rather than one or two after cell extraction training, and they were not prepared for using force and restraints on young detainees as they felt apprehensive and vulnerable after receiving “little to no training”.
Escort and vehicle awareness training was only provided at a very basic level in the recruit course, officers said.
There were also concerns that officers were not given the opportunity to drive the CTU vehicles before commencing work with detainees onboard.
Only one officer out of 28 had undertaken a mental health first aid program and only 11 out of the 28 officers had completed the mandatory CPR refresher training course in the last 12 months.
The newly appointed Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman said there is more work to be done to ensure that ACT Corrective Services staff have access to up to date and clear policies, adequate training and a safe work environment.
“The findings related to staff training, the safety of Court Transport Unit vehicles and outdated policies require particular attention,” he said.
“I have instructed the Justice and Community Safety Directorate to urgently develop a plan of action to explore and address the findings of the report.”
Despite the concerns raised in the report, Inspector McAllister found that the CTU is highly regarded by prisoners.
“This is evidenced by complimentary remarks about their professionalism and conduct, sometimes in difficult situations,” he says in the report.
“In the detainee survey conducted as part of the 2019 Healthy Prison Review of the Alexander Maconochie Centre, 72 per cent of detainees said that the custodial officers at court were respectful and 76 per cent said that the custodial officers transporting them were respectful.”
The ACT Government will provide a formal response in early 2021.
The full report is available from the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services.