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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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28 Responses to
Our women prisoners deserve more
James_Ryan 8:49 pm 19 Jul 17

You won’t get credit citing Clive Williams in a discussion about evidence-based drug and alcohol policy in prison or anywhere else. There is a man who should stick to what he’s good at. I can still remember him sticking his oar in the water via letters to the editor in the Canberra Times at the height of the prison needle exchange debate. He got his pants pulled down and quietly went away.

No one listens to his ranting on these issues, as you can see for yourself if you look at the rubbish he was advocating in that article. Have any Australian jurisdictions taken on his advice? “Methadone, syringe and counselling programs” are soft options apparently. Yet according to Clive three-strike laws are good, smokefree prisons make inmates calmer, and harm reduction is an alternative to supply reduction rather than something that can be implemented in parallel. Yeah, cool story Clive.

“It should be possible to prevent [illicit drug] entry”. Here again you advocate basing policy on an aspiration rather than reality. It should be possible for motor vehicles to safely navigate our roads without crashes. If everyone followed all the road rules and drove defensively, we could do without seatbelts and roadside barriers. Yes, theoretically that is true, but reality tells us that complete road safety is an unattainable aspiration. Worthy goal? Yes. Achievable? No. So we base our policy on a harm minimization approach of enforcement at one end, education at the other, and harm reduction measures in the middle.

If you seriously believe that prison staff turn a blind eye to drug use in the AMC, you need to get a grip. “If only they tried harder” is a banal argument destined to achieve nothing but the status quo.

wildturkeycanoe 8:09 pm 19 Jul 17

James Ryan, you talk about prison drugs like street drugs and that the economics is the same. How do inmates pay the high costs for the privilege of getting a fix? It isn’t like they get paid for their stay inside. If they are making arrangements for those on the outside to cover their costs, then surely stopping the drugs supply into prison will help in the fight against drugs and crime on the outside too. By allowing it to continue where we are in a good position to do something about it, we are pretty much saying publicly that it is just too hard and not worth the effort.
Any argument about economics or harm minimization is akin to accepting failure and by allowing it to continue, keeps the suppliers in business. Remove their market, they have to close up shop. Also, by allowing this “too hard” problem to continue, it perpetuates the motivation for inmates to keep committing crime, in order to feed their habit. What part of rehabilitation allows a problem issue to go unaddressed?

A_Cog 3:54 pm 19 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

A drug free prison is an unattainable aspiration.

No it is not. The reason most ACT offenders (over 80%) are in jail is because of drugs. Letting them do drugs in jail means they come out with the same problem they went in with, so they are guaranteed to reoffend.

And I’m not using some ‘inherent logic’ to conclude this. The Productivity Commission’s report on government services shows the ACT has the highest recidivism rate. So we’ve got a supposedly human-rights compliant jail, that is the worst jail in the nation.

I’m also outraged at the apathy to the jail’s recidivism and mismanagement consequences. Each subsequent victim of an unreformed addict suffers a burglary, a beating, a robbery, because the gubmint cannot control a steel and concrete box. That’s on Rattenbury. And if we cannot reform these offenders, how ethical is it to lock them up and deny them freedom? Why not segregate them at Thredbo where they can work on the moguls?

I am horrified at the state of this. The jail is a joke. The NDIS roll-out excludes 75% of this cohort (psychosocial disabilities include schizophrenia and/or bipolar plus addiction, which is the most common prison cohort). The ACT Police have the lowest crime-solving rate in Australia, so released offenders reoffend with near-impunity and it is luck they are ever caught, so the true recidivism rate is astronomical. And now, Northbourne public housing is being thrown to the four winds, spread further away from core services needed to help with mental health, addiction, disability, unemployment, engagement, support, activity, culture…

But James Ryan reckons things are tickety-boo and a certain level of failure is to be allowed.

I refuse to accept that.

Not one more victim, not one more reoffender. Read my other posts.

Mysteryman 10:42 am 19 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

A drug free prison is an unattainable aspiration. You might like to think that “they” haven’t tried to stop the supply of drugs – indeed, that “little effort” is applied – but remember our prison is no different to any other. Whatever our problems are that lead to inmates accessing drugs and other contraband, they’re the same the world over.

The ACT government approach has been to encourage implementation of a needle and syringe program trial at the AMC to reduce the incidence of shared needle-related communicable diseases, mainly viral hepatitis, rather than try to eliminate illicit drugs in the prison system, which is conveniently seen as a separate issue.

An alternative policy would be to stop illicit drugs from entering the AMC and treat drug addiction in a controlled environment, as was done in New Zealand. Despite some assertions that there have always been illicit drugs in prisons, it should be possible to prevent their entry. There are limited ways illicit drugs can enter any prison: mainly through prison officers, visitors, support staff, incoming prisoners, food deliveries, items sent to prisoners, or being thrown in. The most likely avenue for their entry at the AMC is through visitors.

That avenue could be blocked by physically separating prisoners and visitors, or strip and body-cavity searching prisoners leaving the visiting area. One Japanese prison I visited allowed one 15-minute visit a day, one visitor per visit, physical separation of the visitor and prisoner by a glass panel, and a prison officer with each prisoner during the visit. Needless to say, illicit drugs were not an issue in that prison.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/how-to-make-jail-drugfree-20120828-24yim.html

Have they tried this at AMC? Of course not. It’s easier just to say “too hard, don’t bother”.

Mysteryman 10:28 am 19 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

Mysteryman said :

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles with which to inject.

Our interventions and policies must respond to that reality rather than an unattainable aspiration.

I doubt very much they’ve actually tried hard to stop drugs coming in. Why would they when it’s so easy to just assume a drug free prison to be an “unattainable aspiration”? Most aspirations are unattainable when ittle effort is applied to achieving them.

A drug free prison is an unattainable aspiration. You might like to think that “they” haven’t tried to stop the supply of drugs – indeed, that “little effort” is applied – but remember our prison is no different to any other. Whatever our problems are that lead to inmates accessing drugs and other contraband, they’re the same the world over.

So tell me then, how are they working hard to stop the supply of drugs? What vetting process is in place for guards who seek employment there? What new measures have they adopted to stop the flow of supply? I doubt you can answer any of those questions, but you’re very quick to claim that they’ve done all they can do.

” but remember our prison is no different to any other” – that’s a pretty ridiculous claim considering the comfortable conditions and lax approach taken in our “world class human rights compliant prison”.

James_Ryan 8:37 am 18 Jul 17

Mysteryman said :

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles with which to inject.

Our interventions and policies must respond to that reality rather than an unattainable aspiration.

I doubt very much they’ve actually tried hard to stop drugs coming in. Why would they when it’s so easy to just assume a drug free prison to be an “unattainable aspiration”? Most aspirations are unattainable when ittle effort is applied to achieving them.

A drug free prison is an unattainable aspiration. You might like to think that “they” haven’t tried to stop the supply of drugs – indeed, that “little effort” is applied – but remember our prison is no different to any other. Whatever our problems are that lead to inmates accessing drugs and other contraband, they’re the same the world over.

I suspect the problems rest ultimately in market economics & that the efforts of those trying hard to keep drugs (etc) out are matched by those trying hard to get drugs (etc) in. Like any form of prohibition the more successful the measures to contain supply, the higher the price and the resulting greater incentive. The most successful approaches to drug policy balance effort reducing supply as well as demand, and also in the middle ground by reducing harm. That’s called “harm minimization”, and it underpins all Australian drug policy.

Needle exchange programmes are harm reduction strategies. They deal with “what is” rather than an alternate universe. And what would happen to needle exchange programmes if suddenly or progressively drug (etc) supply reduction measures became successful? With no drugs to inject, there would be no drug related harm to reduce with a needle exchange so it would sit idle.

Supply reduction, harm reduction and demand reduction are not “either, or” strategies. They work in combination. When they are not allowed to work in combination, they don’t really work.

Mysteryman 1:07 pm 17 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles with which to inject.

Our interventions and policies must respond to that reality rather than an unattainable aspiration.

I doubt very much they’ve actually tried hard to stop drugs coming in. Why would they when it’s so easy to just assume a drug free prison to be an “unattainable aspiration”? Most aspirations are unattainable when ittle effort is applied to achieving them.

No_Nose 1:49 pm 15 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles with which to inject.

Our interventions and policies must respond to that reality rather than an unattainable aspiration.

I’m ok with a needle exchange service provided we also have weekly drug tests for the inmates.

First positive test – all parole, early release and probation cancelled and full sentence to be carried out. Each subsequent positive – 10% added to sentence head sentence (to be fully served).

That was if they make the choice to use drugs they can do so ‘safely’, but they must also face consequences for their illegal actions.

James_Ryan 11:18 am 15 Jul 17

With respect WTC, you seem to have a lot of questions for someone who has all the answers. I disagree with a lot of your proposed solutions, but I think we probably agree about what outcomes we want from our prisons. We might also agree we’re not getting those outcomes.

dungfungus 10:43 am 15 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles…

How are they getting in? Certainly there are no tunnels running under the walls, nor regular air drops via drone. If the only way drugs are getting through are by way of visitors, then ban visitors. If that isn’t possible, put a piece of Lexan between them and the inmate. Security cameras ought to be able to catch the moment any prisoner is handed a bag of speed. How hard can it be? A sniffer dog, posted at the entrance, would alert us to the faintest hint of drugs. Do they use them? I don’t know, but they need to do better if this issue is going to be resolved.
Like I said, if you remove the creature comforts from jail, the number of reoffenders has to decline. Without drugs, entertainment, no responsibilities, a warm bed and three meals a day, what possible incentive would a criminal have to go back there?
Did the convicts aboard the first fleet have access to tobacco, rum and nice warm food? I doubt it. Had any of them escaped would they go back to a life of crime, knowing the abysmal conditions awaiting them? Jail is supposed to be a deterrent, but that sadly isn’t the case today.

You didn’t mention the one possible way drugs can get into prisons but we all know what it is anyhow.

wildturkeycanoe 7:16 am 15 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles…

How are they getting in? Certainly there are no tunnels running under the walls, nor regular air drops via drone. If the only way drugs are getting through are by way of visitors, then ban visitors. If that isn’t possible, put a piece of Lexan between them and the inmate. Security cameras ought to be able to catch the moment any prisoner is handed a bag of speed. How hard can it be? A sniffer dog, posted at the entrance, would alert us to the faintest hint of drugs. Do they use them? I don’t know, but they need to do better if this issue is going to be resolved.
Like I said, if you remove the creature comforts from jail, the number of reoffenders has to decline. Without drugs, entertainment, no responsibilities, a warm bed and three meals a day, what possible incentive would a criminal have to go back there?
Did the convicts aboard the first fleet have access to tobacco, rum and nice warm food? I doubt it. Had any of them escaped would they go back to a life of crime, knowing the abysmal conditions awaiting them? Jail is supposed to be a deterrent, but that sadly isn’t the case today.

James_Ryan 2:28 pm 13 Jul 17

Mysteryman said :

You’re right. Let them have the drugs. Similarly, we’re never going to be able to stop theft, rape or violent crime in society. They are just unfortunate realities in society. Maybe we should legalise them, too. You know, since we can’t seem to eradicate it allowing it must be the only logical solution.

Feel free to quote me where I have ever said that we should legalise drugs in prison. I’ll debate the needle exchange issue with you or anyone else respectfully and based on evidence, but please don’t misrepresent my argument in order to denigrate it.

What the evidence supports, and what those eminent organisations advocate, is a programme of regulated needle exchange. What that would mean in the AMC is that someone already in the possession of a needle has the facility available to exchange that needle for a sterile unit. A regulated needle exchange would not provide drugs.

This is necessary because the AMC, like all prisons, has been unable to prevent the availability of drugs and other contraband. People like Ms Jones can base an argument on “they shouldn’t have drugs”, but they do have drugs and they have needles with which to inject.

Our interventions and policies must respond to that reality rather than an unattainable aspiration.

Mysteryman 9:45 am 13 Jul 17

James_Ryan said :

“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.”

Dear Ms Jones.

Do you think a “clean” AMC, free of drugs and injecting equipment, is likely or even possible? Would you put your hand up to be Corrections Minister and promise the community a “clean” AMC on your watch?

Or do you think drugs and other contraband are an unfortunate reality in all prisons? Have you read the published evidence and policy positions on prison needle exchange published by the United Nations, World Health Organization, World AIDS, the World Hepatitis Alliance, Australian Medical Association, Public Health Association of Australia, Harm Reduction Australia, Hepatitis Australia, NUAA, AIVL … the list goes on.

I don’t expect an answer. I know it already.

JR

You’re right. Let them have the drugs. Similarly, we’re never going to be able to stop theft, rape or violent crime in society. They are just unfortunate realities in society. Maybe we should legalise them, too. You know, since we can’t seem to eradicate it allowing it must be the only logical solution.

James_Ryan 8:34 pm 12 Jul 17

“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.”

Dear Ms Jones.

Do you think a “clean” AMC, free of drugs and injecting equipment, is likely or even possible? Would you put your hand up to be Corrections Minister and promise the community a “clean” AMC on your watch?

Or do you think drugs and other contraband are an unfortunate reality in all prisons? Have you read the published evidence and policy positions on prison needle exchange published by the United Nations, World Health Organization, World AIDS, the World Hepatitis Alliance, Australian Medical Association, Public Health Association of Australia, Harm Reduction Australia, Hepatitis Australia, NUAA, AIVL … the list goes on.

I don’t expect an answer. I know it already.

JR

wildturkeycanoe 6:04 am 11 Jul 17

What irks me is pieces like this. Those who have committed crimes heinous enough to warrant incarceration should realise they have surrendered some of their “rights”. Things like a warm bed and “work experience” are not a human right, else there would be an inquisition into our homeless living on the streets who have neither of these luxuries. Who is more deserving, the innocent down-trodden or the one who has chosen to wilfully break society’s laws? Prison is not a three star hotel, it is where life is supposed to be hatd so you learn not to do what you have done. Creature comforts should not exist in jail. No TV, no internet, no recreational games but what you can make up yourself. I think the whole remand system has gone so soft people are choosing crime in order to have society look after them, because it’s easier in detentionthan in the free world. We need to stop babying prisoners with “human rights” and teach them a lesson by removing the niceties of life from inside those walls. Then they might actually think twice about committing a crime in the first instance and perhaps definitely rethinking their actions after spending time behind bars.
As for the clean needles, weapons and drugs, security is pathetic if these are getting in. They should not even need needles because drugs shouldn’t be getting in. If airports can screen them out with their passenger numbers, why couldn’t a scanner or drug sniffer dog prevent drugs getting in to prison?
The softly, softly approach isn’t working or the stats would be improving. There are needier, more deserving people in society and I don’t care what the human rights activists think, human rights is being misused to benefit criminals whilst victims suffer.

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