‘People will die’: prisoners paint depressing picture of life inside AMC

Dominic Giannini 20 November 2020 62

Prisoners say the Alexander Maconochie Centre fails to meet their basic human rights. Photo: File.

Prisoners have painted a depressing picture of life inside Canberra’s Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), saying current conditions are contributing to psychological hardship, promoting the spread of disease and infection, and fostering animosity towards prison staff.

One inmate, describing the bleakness of life inside the prison, said protests were likely to escalate before any meaningful change takes place.

“My main concern is that if things do not change, inmates are likely to escalate the severity of their protests and people will die,” the prisoner said.

“There is already talk of this being required if any meaningful change is to be prompted. The goal of the [recent unrest at AMC] is to make someone pay attention.”

READ ALSO: Four fires lit as AMC detainees refused to return to cells

Inmates say restrictions on prisoners are “imposing additional punishments beyond the deprivation of liberty” and prevents them from reducing boredom.

“When I think of being ‘bored’, I think of having to endure a long flight or a particularly dry university lecture,” he said. “The bleak nothingness of imprisonment, especially at the AMC … [is] genuine psychological hardship, damaging to those who experience it.

“A few days sitting in a cell or the unit cage is boring, a few weeks is straining. When it becomes months or years, with no end in sight and no reason for this to be occurring beyond the punitive ideologies of AMC management, it becomes something much more.”

Prisoners also alleging insufficient food, a prohibition on everyday items and extortionate prices on items they can buy.

A document sent to AMC management by a delegate for the prisoners, dated April this year, stated that current property restrictions expose “inmates to periods of prolonged monotony and psychological hardship”.

Shared hair clippers and boxing gloves promoted the spread of disease and infection while bans on music and game consoles increased demand for drugs and other contraband, it claimed.

“Inmates at AMC cannot purchase or legally acquire items such as hair clippers, CD players or CDs, DVDs, sporting equipment, shoes, games consoles, and a range of other everyday items available in many other jurisdictions.

“The prohibition on everyday items that serve to reduce the pains of imprisonment does not comply with human rights legislation, human rights principles, or ACT standards for corrections.”

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

A Justice and Community Services Directorate (JACS) spokesperson said detainees have access to 51 open source games via the Prison PC system in cells as well as DVDs they can watch in their cells.

“All detainees receive a minimum of one hour time out of cells; however, ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS) strives to provide detainees with up to 9.5 hours out of cells each day [but] the target is often impacted by the large number of detainee cohorts within the AMC who are not able to mix openly together, [and] COVID-19.”

But when complaints are made through official channels they are often to no avail, the prisoner said.

The ACT Human Rights Commission (HRC) does not have the jurisdiction to handle human rights complaints or to receive and deal with complaints about human rights breaches by government agencies, ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs confirmed.

The ACT Ombudsman only considers complaints that breach AMC policy and the Office of Inspector of Correctional Services does not consider prisoner complaints.

Detainees must launch legal actions which the Human Rights Commissioner can seek leave to intervene in.

READ ALSO: Police called to Alexander Maconochie Centre every three days, new data shows

Dr Watchirs said she is currently intervening in a complaint regarding prisoners’ access to a minimum one-hour of fresh air and exercise daily.

A JACS spokesperson said that the HRC has oversight of the prison and that “ACTCS policies and procedures align with the Human Rights Act 2004“.

An ACT Government spokesperson said prisoners are also able to make complaints to Official Prison Visitors who operate independently from the Directorate.

“Official Visitors provide a report on complaints received and systemic issues identified on a quarterly basis and recommendations are acted upon to ensure that services meet the needs and human rights of vulnerable people,” they said.

A review released last year by the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services found that more needs to be done to address key issues relating to safety, respect and dignity, purposeful activity, and rehabilitation and preparation for release.

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62 Responses to ‘People will die’: prisoners paint depressing picture of life inside AMC
Shaun Rivera Shaun Rivera 11:34 pm 03 Dec 20

Keyboard warriors have no idea. Life in the AMC is not Club Med or a soft option. I spent 2 weeks there and was eventually found innocent of the charges against me. I had never been to prison in my life. Those who say how easy it is should spend at least 2 weeks in there and then comment.

    jwinston jwinston 2:59 pm 04 Dec 20

    Yep, you’ve spent two weeks in the AMC and said “Life in the AMC is not Club Med or a soft option”.

    So tell us what was it was like?

    Shaun Rivera Shaun Rivera 2:33 am 30 Dec 20

    You seem to know so tell me what you think it is like.

rossau rossau 5:43 pm 26 Nov 20

Dear Richard,
‘Remand’ does not vaguely suggest offending. It does however describe incarceration.
The two are in no way equivalent.
Some people need an education: but, this is not taught in schools.

rossau rossau 5:41 pm 26 Nov 20

Dear Julia Ross, if criminal allegations are brought against you, true or false, then you must apply for bail (release). In the ACT, like much of Australia, you’ll need to make a good case to be allowed to walk the streets before your trial. And, if you are allowed out, your employment will be compromised. I’m sorry, you have little idea what transpires.

jwinston jwinston 4:40 pm 24 Nov 20

Julia Ross & Merlyn Evans, where is the evidence that 7% of prisoners in the Canberra jail are innocent?

Lisa Bishop Lisa Bishop 3:13 pm 24 Nov 20

Inmates should be made to contribute to their keep. Get them outside building and planting out vegetable gardens etc

Gail Cocksedge Gail Cocksedge 1:45 pm 23 Nov 20

And why do we care about this. Breaking the law has consequences. It's not a freeking resort, it's called punishment for the crime you have committed

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:25 pm 22 Nov 20

Unless there is authoritative research which indicates that the deterrent effect of the sorts of conditions described above clearly outweighs the risks of psychological damage which might lead to recidivism, the ACT Government should be taking this seriously – particularly with the prospect of an upsurge in property and other crimes when Jobkeeper and the other virus-related financial supports come to an end.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 5:38 pm 22 Nov 20

Perhaps we should change the model to avoid re-offending?

How about they stay in prison until they can prove they are no longer a risk to society?

Perhaps we should change the model to avoid issues with the facilities provided?

Take them all away. Give them something to look forward to after achieving step one.

Luke Felton Luke Felton 5:38 pm 21 Nov 20

Nawwww da crwiminals who didn't care about anyone but themselves whilst committing offences are upset dat the da big bad prison isn't a holiday resort. Naww the poor dears, quick someone get them some margaritas, and get them to a beach quick!

Madashell Madashell 4:53 pm 21 Nov 20

Yep. If you don’t like the conditions you can always like erh… stop committing crimes. It’s not supposed to be Club Med for criminals – its a jail (isn’t it?).

jwinston jwinston 1:50 pm 21 Nov 20

“The ACT Human Rights Commission (HRC) does not have the jurisdiction to handle human rights complaints or to receive and deal with complaints about human rights breaches by government agencies, ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs confirmed.”

“Dr Watchirs said she is currently intervening in a complaint regarding prisoners’ access to a minimum one-hour of fresh air and exercise daily.”

Mind blown ?

Inca Serrated Inca Serrated 12:05 pm 21 Nov 20

Canberra needs to decide what it wants from its prison. Punishment can not continue to be the sole focus. Many comments here have emphasized punishment but the evidence shows that this does not reduce re-offending or improve community safety. The majority of AMC prisoners will be returning to the community, we need to accept this and prepare prisoners for success. This article is not about feeling sorry for prisoners, it is about the conditions of AMC not being conducive to positive outcomes. We do not emphasize rehabilitation for the sake of the prisoner, but for the sake of society as a whole.

    Luke Felton Luke Felton 5:39 pm 21 Nov 20

    Inca Serrated well it i think its positive that those not yet incarcerated know what to expect if they continue down a path of poor decision making....

    Or are we blaming AMC and its condition for the offences committed by its current residents?

ssek ssek 10:47 am 21 Nov 20

Oh no! Life in jail isn’t fun!
These idiots have to be joking. No game consoles? Cry me a river. Maybe this place should actually be run like a prison rather than a daycare for overgrown children who can’t stop committing crimes.

    gositsa gositsa 9:00 pm 30 Nov 20

    Yep, exactly – whatever happened to “hard Labour!”

Tania Shaw Tania Shaw 10:16 am 21 Nov 20

what are other prisons like if a human rights compliant prison has these complaints?

Herman Riet Herman Riet 9:15 am 21 Nov 20

Is our prison so much different from other States? It was built recently with live in dorm house etc. Custodians employed receiving the most updated training in what is expected & what to do....why is it so bad?

Tim Mark Tim Mark 8:39 am 21 Nov 20

24 hr lock downs then?

Julia Ross Julia Ross 7:25 am 21 Nov 20

If they didn't break the law, they wouldn't be in there. Tough!! No sympathy from me.

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 1:06 pm 21 Nov 20

    Merlyn Evans, hi Merlyn. OK so unfortunately there are some in prison that are innocent 7%. That makes 93% guilty. Innocent people shouldn't be there, but the majority should.

    Shaun Rivera Shaun Rivera 2:18 pm 25 Dec 20

    What if some are innocent

Richard Francis Thompson Richard Francis Thompson 2:15 am 21 Nov 20

I'd suggest not offending?

Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 12:02 am 21 Nov 20

Send the troublemakers to Silverwater or the Supermax in Goulburn. Problem solved!

Ray Mccaig Ray Mccaig 10:02 pm 20 Nov 20

In there for a reason I would think

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