Prisoners at Canberra’s jail have not had access to formal education programs for more than a year now as it proves difficult to find a replacement provider.
That’s only one of the ongoing problems relating to a lack of structure at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, budget estimates hearings have heard.
Those issues are not new and the Office of the Inspector of Correctional Services (OICS) confirmed they would be included again in its upcoming Healthy Prison review to be released by the end of the year.
Inmates claim that having few activities makes violence more likely, including riots and fire-lighting.
Detainees are also understood to have frequent access to contraband items such as drugs and alcohol, including by drones.
ACT Correctional Services Commissioner Ray Johnson confirmed on Thursday (1 September) that the previous provider of education at the prison withdrew from the contract in October 2021.
Initially, the contract expired in June 2021. Commissioner Johnson explained that this was extended for six months, although education services weren’t offered to detainees since the June expiration due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
He acknowledged the process of finding a replacement provider had been lengthier and more complex than he’d anticipated.
A market tender first went out earlier this year.
Commissioner Johnson said he was “sensitive about commercial-in-confidence arrangements” but could not provide much detail about where the tender process was up to to find a replacement provider.
“If you ask me why it [has] taken so long, well, it just takes so long. It’s long and complicated and [we] have to provide the government with value for money,” he said.
“This is a pretty significant contract, and I’m really keen to get it right.”
But he said a decision would be made as soon as possible and the provider would then be likely to come on board straight after being selected.
In the interim, some different programs had been run on an ad-hoc basis. This included offering three different construction classes and supporting any detainees undertaking tertiary studies with external providers.
One Transitional Release Centre attendee had also undertaken a test and tag program.
“It hasn’t completely ceased,” Commissioner Johnson said.
“We are still looking at ways to get education back into the centre as we progress the tender process.”
He also explained that the requirements for the tender had been developed following Corrective Services having heard detainees’ concerns about some of the education provided at the prison not being relevant to them finding employment.
This was completed late last year.
Commissioner Johnson hoped the new package of programs could be exciting for detainees and provide them with valuable skills in the context of a skills shortage.
Opposition spokesperson for corrections Elizabeth Kikkert questioned whether not having education programs on offer at the jail was hindering detainees’ rehabilitation and reintegration prospects.
In response, Commissioner Johnson acknowledged the prison hadn’t been able to offer as full a suite of programs as it wanted to.
“It’s not ideal for us.”
Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman defended the timeframe, saying it was important the procurement process was done well.