Our women prisoners deserve a lot more of the ACT Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury’s time and effort.
When the ACT Assembly acted a decade ago to bring the prisoners of the ACT home and to house them in an ACT based facility, it sounded like a positive step.
The idea that people’s relatives could visit more easily and that management of release, appearances in court and the like could be made easier for remandees and prisoners alike sounded better than having our prisoners accommodated at prisons all over NSW.
In particular, I had hoped that especially for women this facility would mean that more of them could see family and offspring more often and could have their rehabilitation managed by a community with a great interest in their futures post-prison.
Sadly, the story of our prison has not been as glorious as those who envisioned it had hoped and now we are faced with a situation where there are a number of areas of concern for inmates.
We have remandees and sentenced prisoners housed together, which poses difficulties from a human rights perspective for those ultimately found not guilty.
We have issues with how therapeutic drugs like Suboxone and Methadone are administered so as to avoid inmates poisoning themselves or their fellow inmates.
We have a minister who has for years studiously promoted a free needle exchange program under the justification of safety to assist inmates to take illegal drugs in their cells with cleaner needles than those they currently get hold of. Unfortunately, this campaign sends mixed messages to both inmates and employees of the prison that the fight to stop illegal drugs entering the prison that gives up on the idea of a clean facility where inmates can imagine a life without substance abuse and life controlling health issues.
But one of the accidental outcomes of our prison is the unfortunate lack of focus over the last few years that has been put onto the women prisoners and the lives they lead inside our prison and indeed their opportunities for an improved life post-release.
The male population of the Alexander Maconochie Centre hovers today in the high 400s and women detainees are a fraction of this at between 30 and 45 this year.
Women have access to education programs and medical assistance as per the other detainees.
However, the similarities between the opportunities for the men and women end there.
The men in the AMC are now being offered the chance to work in a newly constructed laundry and a soon to be opened bakery. The women are not.
The recent capital works which saw a huge increase in the number of beds available to house men was completed now seeing over 500 beds available for the men to occupy and I am surprised to have discovered that in all of this work no thought was given to the women needing an increased number of beds.
The government claims that they could not possibly have known that the numbers of women in the AMC would rise as sharply as they have over the past year.
However, even very basic research shows that women in prisons is a figure steeply rising across the world at present and over the last few years.
I also raised this matter as far back as February when the number of women detainees had already exceeded on some nights the number of beds on the women’s side of the prison.
This week it has come to light that we have now reached the chaotic state of there being up to 45 women in a prison designed to house less than 30. These women are now being housed all over the place at night time, some in the management unit – which is now at capacity – and some in the cells at the prison health centre – which is very close to capacity at times.
I am really astonished that a minister who has seemed pretty competent in the past has let things get to this stage.
Where will he be housing women when we get to 50 women soon?
Just because they are in prison and can’t make a fuss, doesn’t mean that they can be ignored.