27 March 2023

New Inspector of Correctional Services says all voices in Canberra's jail need to be heard

| Albert McKnight
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The ACT’s new Inspector of Correctional Services is Rebecca Minty. Photo: Liv Cameron.

The ACT’s new home-grown Inspector of Correctional Services has spoken about the importance of hearing from all those who reside or work at the Territory’s jail to improve conditions.

“The voices of people in detention and their lived experience needs to be heard, as well as the voices of other key stakeholders, including staff,” Rebecca Minty said.

“People are sent to jail as punishment, not for punishment – but actually one-third of people in the AMC [Alexander Maconochie Centre] and higher in youth detention are on remand and have not been convicted of anything.

“It’s important as a society how we treat people in detention as almost all will return to the community.”

Canberra-raised Ms Minty recently began her five-year term as the ACT’s second Inspector of Correctional Services, taking over from Neil McAllister, who had served in the role since 2018.

The position was established in 2017 to provide independent oversight of adult corrections and youth justice facilities in the ACT.

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Ms Minty said it was her aim to produce meaningful reviews by drawing on evidence and voices of those in detention, staff and stakeholders, and bringing that information to Corrective Services to enable continual improvement.

“I think the AMC has some way to go in meeting requirements under the Human Rights Act we have in the ACT, but there are some areas of improvement, such as the pending introduction of body scanners which reduce the need for strip searches,” she said.

She did point out that other jurisdictions could use different jails for different purposes, like having a woman-only facility, while the ACT had just one jail.

“There’s no doubt the AMC has particular challenges that come from our size, but we’ve got to make the most of what we have,” she said.

Ms Minty said the last five years had been a challenging period for Corrective Services, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted both staff and those in detention.

woman smiling

Rebecca Minty served as Deputy Inspector of Correctional Services since 2018. Photo: Liv Cameron.

But she also said her office’s last review had found a lack of structured activities and boredom in the jail, and there hadn’t been any educational programs for more than a year.

She said in the ACT, statistics showed that 38 per cent of people who have been in custody will return to custody within two years. The rate was even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at 44 per cent.

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Ms Minty said structured activities such as meaningful work and programs were “so important for keeping people out of jail” after they are released.

“What needs to be a focus is structured activity … to reduce the likelihood that people will come back and be able to get on in the community,” she said.

But she also said she had seen improvements over the last few years. For instance, her office had identified that there were no female Indigenous Australian liaison officers at the jail, so such a position was created.

“It’s one jail for everyone and that includes women – women make up about 7 per cent of the AMC – and what we constantly see is they miss out on programs, supports and activities,” she said.

Ms Minty’s background is in law and she has spent most of her life in Canberra, saying the city was “definitely home”, but she has also worked overseas.

She worked for the Geneva-based non-government organisation the Association for the Prevention of Torture on their Asia-Pacific Program from 2012 to 2016, then in Bangkok in 2016 as human rights officer for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She is also a co-founder of the Australia Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) Network, a group of civil society, academics, oversight entities and individuals interested in Australia’s ratification and implementation of the OPCAT.

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Ms Minty helped Mr McAllister set up the Office of the Inspector five years ago and took a job as his deputy, saying “the amount he achieved is really impressive”.

“I’m excited to take up the role and see it as a really important challenge,” she said of her new position.

“It’s a big responsibility, but one I think is incredibly important.”

Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman welcomed Ms Minty to the role and thanked Mr McAllister for his significant service to the ACT.

“Ms Minty brings a wealth of experience to the role as deputy inspector of Correctional Services for five years,” he said.

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Will the voices of victims be included?

Except the smokers. We don’t want to hear from them.

You’ll have your work cut out for you. Corrections is probably the worst managed department within the ACT Government. No votes in running an efficient gaol.

An example of how it is run and spun, a few years ago the Bakery was staffed by 2 groups of crooks doing 3 days a week each. To increase the job opportunities for women, they changed that to 3 groups, 2 men and 1 women doing 2 days a week each. They then announced in the media that they have provided the women with more work without admitting the men had their days reduced. 5 days of boredom instead of 4. The Rat may have been minister then.

Another, parolee’s could do drug tests at the closest pathology. Now it’s done at the parole office. This means those that work can’t drop down to the closest collection point during their lunch break, now have to turn up and line up with everyone else including those without jobs who are in no rush. This cost my son his last job after he got breached for missing one so left work to make sure his didn’t miss the next and the boss sacked him. Parole board is not interested in parolee’s having jobs.

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