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Our women prisoners deserve more

By Giulia Jones MLA 10 July 2017 28

Alexander Maconochie Centre

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.

What’s Your opinion?


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Our women prisoners deserve more
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No_Nose 5:40 pm 23 Jul 17

dungfungus said :

No_Nose said :

If you went out and grabbed 1000 Canberra voters and asked them to list their top ten priorities on what they base their vote on I would be very surprised if “Convicted Criminals Comforts” was mentioned once in the ten thousand responses.

Kebabs would be the number one priority.

Access to high quality kebabs would certainly rate higher on my radar than prisoners rights. I do love a good kebab!

dungfungus 9:06 am 23 Jul 17

No_Nose said :

James_Ryan said :

Katy Gallagher as Chief Minister won an election with prison NSP as part of her policy platform. Her opponent dragged that argument to the lowest common denominator and recycled some of the rubbish read hereabout … giving them drugs, a prison awash with needles, sending the wrong message (lolz), offending the sensibilities of prisons officers who are so committed to the welfare of the inmates they are stricken with the thought that people in detention might be “supported” to use drugs, and my personal favourite lie that detainees don’t want a prison NSP anyway.

Takes more than the noisy minority and rent-a-crowd to win an election.

If you went out and grabbed 1000 Canberra voters and asked them to list their top ten priorities on what they base their vote on I would be very surprised if “Convicted Criminals Comforts” was mentioned once in the ten thousand responses.

Kebabs would be the number one priority.

No_Nose 11:56 pm 22 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

What an incredible but illuminating reply. “Comfort”? Who said anything about “comfort”? Do you honest believe that a detainee being able to access an equivalent level of healthcare and human rights as that available in the community is a matter of “comfort”?

You have done this discussion a considerable service by betraying your underlying philosophy and objection. I’ve always thought that most of the objection to evidence-based corrections and justice health policies relates to the perceived unworthiness of the inmate rather than a problem with the evidence.

Sorry, you misunderstood. As I have previously stated I have no objection to a prison needle exchange program provided the convicted criminals have to deal with the consequences of choosing to (continue to) engage in illegal activity, just as the general public have deal with the consequences for choosing to engage in illegal activities. No one is forcing anyone to break the law, but as an adult exercising free choice, you need to accept that there are consequences.

My comments on ‘comfort’ was in regard to your ‘Stalag 17” statement that the public wouldn’t accept things such as no-contact visits for convicted criminals and that is a strong enough issue for people to base their electoral votes on.

I doubt it would even rate on most peoples electoral radar.

James_Ryan 2:11 pm 22 Jul 17

What an incredible but illuminating reply. “Comfort”? Who said anything about “comfort”? Do you honest believe that a detainee being able to access an equivalent level of healthcare and human rights as that available in the community is a matter of “comfort”?

You have done this discussion a considerable service by betraying your underlying philosophy and objection. I’ve always thought that most of the objection to evidence-based corrections and justice health policies relates to the perceived unworthiness of the inmate rather than a problem with the evidence.

“Comfort.” Yeah, good one.

No_Nose 12:21 am 22 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

Katy Gallagher as Chief Minister won an election with prison NSP as part of her policy platform. Her opponent dragged that argument to the lowest common denominator and recycled some of the rubbish read hereabout … giving them drugs, a prison awash with needles, sending the wrong message (lolz), offending the sensibilities of prisons officers who are so committed to the welfare of the inmates they are stricken with the thought that people in detention might be “supported” to use drugs, and my personal favourite lie that detainees don’t want a prison NSP anyway.

Takes more than the noisy minority and rent-a-crowd to win an election.

If you went out and grabbed 1000 Canberra voters and asked them to list their top ten priorities on what they base their vote on I would be very surprised if “Convicted Criminals Comforts” was mentioned once in the ten thousand responses.

James_Ryan 2:25 pm 21 Jul 17

Katy Gallagher as Chief Minister won an election with prison NSP as part of her policy platform. Her opponent dragged that argument to the lowest common denominator and recycled some of the rubbish read hereabout … giving them drugs, a prison awash with needles, sending the wrong message (lolz), offending the sensibilities of prisons officers who are so committed to the welfare of the inmates they are stricken with the thought that people in detention might be “supported” to use drugs, and my personal favourite lie that detainees don’t want a prison NSP anyway.

Takes more than the noisy minority and rent-a-crowd to win an election.

No_Nose 7:01 am 21 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

The government won’t turn it into Stalag 17 and the community wouldn’t cop that anyway.

I think you are wrong there.

The noisy minority and rent-a-crowd wouldn’t accept it and would bleat loudly about it, but the vast majority of the public would have no concerns with convicted criminals being inconvenienced and would actually support it.

James_Ryan 7:18 pm 20 Jul 17

Mysteryman said :

You’re talking a lot about how it’s an impossibility to have a drug free prison, despite it being done elsewhere.

You’re talking a lot about drug free prisons elsewhere, without a shred of evidence to support that. For all we know there’s a prison somewhere in Greenland with security so brutal that a fly can’t penetrate. But if they’ve achieved that at the expense of rehabilitation then they’ve achieved nothing. That’s what’s wrong with the “I’m so tough I reckon strip search them (even those with a history of sexual abuse), deny them contact visits with family, give them no privacy, search their cavities, make them do hard labor” approach. Yes it’s probably feasible to reduce the supply of contraband to practically zero, but the conditions necessary to achieve that will undermine the purpose of incarcerating people in the first place. If they’re not coming back to the community as better people, then we are failing them.

You’re also adamant that there’s nothing more that can be done at AMC despite not being able to outline anything that’s be tried so far. I asked you earlier to provide some details on what’s actually been tried in an effort to curb the flow of drugs and you didn’t.

No. I’m adamant that a drug free prison is an unattainable aspiration. The government won’t turn it into Stalag 17 and the community wouldn’t cop that anyway. I could have a crack at answering the question you asked but you’re asking the wrong person. Why don’t you invite someone who works there, or someone who has portfolio responsibilities over the facility to answer your questions? Even better, how about you stump up some evidence that what you assert is true?

The essence of what you’ve said is “too hard, don’t try”. That sounds like a cop out to me. Considering how much money we’re spending on this prison, we should be seeing better results than we’re getting.

No it’s not what I said at all, and you do yourself no credit by running down a straw man. Let’s be clear about this, what I’m advocating is a harm minimization approach. We need investment and evidence-based effort in all three pillars of supply reduction, harm reduction and demand reduction.

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