17 December 2020

New oversight committee called in to fix problems at Canberra's prison

| Dominic Giannini
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Mick Gentleman

Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman will set up an oversight committee to improve the situation in Canberra’s prison. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A new committee will be set up to help address a range of challenges and gaps within Canberra’s prison after recent reports identified issues including a lack of staff training, vehicles with safety risks that were unfit for purpose and inadequate accommodation for women prisoners.

The oversight committee will bring together representatives from the Human Rights Commission, the public sector union, the prison’s general manager and the Official Visitors program, as well as executives from the Justice and Community Safety (JACS) Directorate and an Indigenous delegate.

It will be overseen by an independent chair who will report back to the Minister.

The announcement came a fortnight after 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 and some officers have not completed mandatory training courses.

Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman – who took on the role from Shane Rattenbury after October’s election – said staff training was an urgent priority.

READ MORE Drivers undertrained, vehicles not fit for purpose, Correctional Services Inspector finds

“It’s clear that recommendations from recent reports need to be advanced in a way that is supportive of staff and promotes a discussion around culture at AMC,” Mr Gentleman said.

“This will include an urgent focus on bringing training capabilities up to date and examining staffing levels and rostering to ensure staff development and wellbeing.

“I recognise the impact of staffing pressures on detainees and access to detainee services. We are working to implement immediate changes to address these challenges, including the recruitment of more corrections officers.”

Elizabeth Kikkert

Shadow Corrections Minister Elizabeth Kikkert has expressed her disappointment that the new committee does not explicitly include a representative for women in the prison. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Despite having enough full-time staff to manage the prison, there are not enough surplus staff for prison officers to attend training courses, Mr Gentleman said.

Officers have previously complained about rampant understaffing at the prison, with as many as 17 of 50 rostered guards being absent some days.

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

The high rate of absenteeism stems from a feeling of powerlessness and frustration among guards who feel they are trying to tackle discipline within the prison with one hand tied behind their backs, one guard told Region Media.

Three officers have also sought care in mental hospitals this year due to job-related stress, Region Media was told.

Mr Gentleman said more recruitment would help ease staffing pressures, with 14 trainee prison officers graduating this month and another training intake set for March.

Further staff intakes may also be scheduled in August or September if necessary.

“We want to provide staff with a genuine way forward through a comprehensive process that builds consultation around management and implementation of policy and procedures,” Mr Gentleman said.

“Supporting corrections staff is a key priority for me and the ACT Government.”

Shadow Corrections Minister Elizabeth Kikkert said the committee was proof that Mr Gentleman was left to clean up Mr Rattenbury’s mess.

“Under Mr Rattenbury, the AMC was defined by deaths, escapes, record rates of assault, severe overcrowding, inappropriate accommodation of women, rampant drug abuse, staff shortages, and being the most expensive prison to run,” she said.

Ms Kikkert also reprimanded the Minister for leaving out a specific women’s advocate, given that the Healthy Prison Review found that female detainees “lack equality of opportunity to facilities, programs and services compared to the men”.

“I am disappointed this committee does not have an advocate for the delivery of correctional services for women, given the inappropriate accommodation of women detainees amongst the male detainees,” Ms Kikkert said.

“This is a missed opportunity. Mr Gentleman and his new committee have a long list of issues to fix.”

Mr Gentleman said women’s issues would be addressed by the delegations already in the committee, including the union and Human Rights Commission.

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Another waste of time, these politicians are useless and these constant committees are a waste of time. Only purpose they serve is for the politicians sitting on them and their egos and belief that they are making positive change when they in fact are not.

I was at a Christmas party last week and I met 2 guards from the Canberra prison. They explained a number of systemic issues that stem from the top of their department including fraud and the covering up of criminal activity from their managers and guards. One example they told me was of a prisoners mobile phone with footage of numerous prison officers taking drugs. This phone disappeared after one of the bosses became involved.

They also mentioned that the only time that the prison was running properly was when a guy from NSW corrective services was in charge of the prison after it opened but was sacked after a year for running the prison like a prison. They said that subsequent prison bosses from NZ, Canada and England have made the prison a dangerous place to work which has led to many officers being assaulted and experienced guards leaving the job.

When I asked them about the recent riot they told me that the incident wasn’t negotiated peacefully at all. They said that the prisoners, mostly bikies, were wet and cold from the fire brigades hoses from when they were putting the fires out and the prisoners requested to be moved to dry cells.

There were more stories that concerned me but the common theme throughout the afternoon was that there needed to be a clean out of management, a drug testing program of prison officers and a more structured way of managing prisoners.

And I can confirm that it was only run properly when the first boss was in charge like you said. He was sacked and took ACT government to unfair dismissal and won. The Hume Hilton is an absolute joke and isn’t run effectively or like a prison with guards who shouldn’t get the jobs somehow getting them in silly recruitment rounds. I know from experience and no I am not a former guard, that so called management is a joke and not just at the jail. It stems from the top of corrections, the people who sit comfortably in their offices and scold guards for apparently not observing the inmates human rights. There have been many compensation cases out of the Hume Hilton, guards dismissed due to questionable conduct and take a look at how many changes there have been at the head of corrections. Sooner or later someone, not an inmate will die on the job because it’s all politics and protecting the human rights of the inmate. Go and ask Shane rattenbury what he thinks of the Hume Hilton, it’s run exactly how he wants it, not like a jail and he even wants the inmates to have syringes. Good grief what a mess that place is.

Maybe run it like a prison, rather than a daycare for losers who can’t stop committing crimes.

How about an oversight committee to fix TCH. Something that will benefit a larger number of people. See the recent RiotACT article:


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