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Privatise the AMC? Madness!

By John Hargreaves - 2 January 2017 50

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My attention was drawn recently to an interview Jon Stanhope did on radio concerning some alarming issues at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. The article by Tom Lowry of the Times described Mr Stanhope as the architect of the AMC. Not so sure about that. There were many people involved in bringing offenders home into our proposed human-rights compliant facility.

I draw on my time in the Legislative Assembly on the Justice and Community Safety Standing Committee and as Minister for Corrections.  Also on the stance I have taken the public ownership of its responsibilities for rehabilitating and restoring offenders, in comments inside and outside the ACT Labor Party.

This report raised alarm bells with me because it seemed that Mr Stanhope’s suggestion that the AMC be privatised goes totally against the stance Labor has had for decades and as far as I know is against Labor Party policy in the ACT.

Some history. It was actually the Liberals under Gary Humphries which started the ACT Prison project. Initially they wanted it to be built and run by the private sector. Labor has always been opposed to the notion that the responsibility for offenders and the attendant risk could be shifted to the private sector. I once described the notion as profiting from other people’s pain.

But at the 2004 election, Liberal Brendan Smyth wanted to stop the construction of the prison. Go figure!

Jon Stanhope as the leader of the Labor Opposition and then Government, as a former chair of the Civil Liberties Council, saw the need for the Territory to accept its responsibilities and to build, own and operate its own correctional facility. I supported his view without reservation.

I looked at the recidivism question and concluded that if we treated offenders with respect and compassion, we were more likely to stop recidivism than treating offenders as animals. Jon and I shared the notion that one was sent to jail as punishment not for punishment. The deprivation of liberty was the sentence. It was not the introduction of more suffering to come. It was not retribution from the community but a chance to rebuild a life.

Jon talked about a human rights compliant jail. He was spot on here. I argued that once the prisoners transferred into the ACT from NSW had washed through the system, the recidivism rate for those offenders for whom the AMC was their first encounter with the correctional system would drop dramatically. NSW jails are predominantly the punishment centres, the brick and concrete, 1800s style and treated prisoners as lesser people. And we had a chance to change that. I still hold these views. The wash through has not ended yet, so criticising the recidivism rate for the ACT needs to be carefully considered with proper data otherwise it is just plain wrong.

I was disappointed to hear Mr Stanhope agree saying “that we now have reviewers of this prison saying look, this is not a human-rights compliant prison – stop calling it that, you’re not being honest.” Then to my staggering amazement, Mr Stanhope went on to say that the ACT Government should consider privatisation of the prison as a way to improve management!

Does he not remember the failure of the Port Phillip prison, run by Group 4 under contract to the Victorian Government, which attracted a Victorian Auditor General to savage the contract? Does he not remember the Victorian Government taking back the contract? Does he not remember that the Port Phillip prison had 13 deaths from hanging in the first 18 months of operation?

Does he not remember how strident we all were about having to accept our community responsibility for correcting the behaviour of our own offenders, the main reason for bringing our prisoners home from NSW jails?

Let me first say that I am appalled that a life member of the Labor Party would countenance such a notion at all, let alone a former Chief Minister who championed the causes of the under privileged, the down trodden, the discriminated against, the homeless and the hopeless.

However, it should be acknowledged that there are shortcomings at the AMC as well as some brilliant initiatives, neither of which have seen the light of day. It is still in its infancy as a correctional facility.

The transitional release centre is a wonderful re-introductive tool for prisoners who have been incarcerated for a very long time and have lost those basic community awareness skills.

The absence of barbed wire and concrete walls allows fresh air and scenery into the daily life of those who have had their freedom removed. They can see kangaroos in the morning, they can see the mist rise over the creek bed and they can see the traffic going by. They have not been locked away in a cupboard a with the key chucked away. They can see a reason to restore themselves and get out a changed person.

The fact that the AMC is a tiered facility, with both genders, remand and sentenced prisoners is a positive.

Oh… and I saw in the article that there is a hairdressing facility. Hello! There were always two hairdressing bays in the women’s section. Not news, guys!

And where is the credit for the barista training which gives the prisoners a Certificate 3 in hospitality and an employment qualification? Or the peaceful quiet space for indigenous inmates with programs just for them?

Sure, the work programs aren’t sufficient, but where is the involvement (and thus criticism for the lack) of opportunities from the nearby private sector to have work related programs run in conjunction with the community? It has worked in Mt Gambier, in Sale and in Mareeba.  But these are privately run jails. Is it possible that the private sector will not cooperate with a public jail?

The shortcomings are, to me exacerbated by the lack of a safe injecting facility. I was a big opponent of this in a jail until I realised that harm minimisation is a good start to getting people off drugs. To deny this is just madness. The proof is everywhere that this works and is not a danger to the officers as they say. Having shared needles in prisons because they can’t be prevented is more of a danger than a supervised facility.

Another concern I have is the emergence of a gym. I saw for myself the stupidity of putting body building equipment into a facility where lack of employment or activity only serves to entice people to enhance their image through strength and body building. The Fulham Prison near Sale had a group of Asian inmates who did just that and intimidated the other prisoners. They also prepared for skullduggery on release as stand over merchants.

It is clear to me that having a military approach to custodial officers is a significant problem. Having uniforms just widens the gap between those incarcerated and those who are trying to rehabilitate them. The us and them syndrome is alive and well. Uniforms only perpetuate the notion of officers being “screws” and “turnkeys”. But my suggestion that uniforms not be introduced was met with horror by the officers.

The experiment at Mt Gambier, where uniforms and ranks were banned, involvement with the community, engineered by the enlightened Director, resulted in positive outcomes for prisoners and job satisfaction for the corrective service officers. The community/prison/business partnership resulted in a low recidivism rate and a real time re-integration of offenders back into the community.

I mourn for the prisoners in the AMC, I mourn for their families, I mourn for the officers, I mourn for the community and I mourn for the hope I felt in that facility. Jon Stanhope’s comments were not helpful and his backflip is regretted.

Sure there are issues at the AMC, but privatising the AMC will not transfer the risk of failure, it will just be more expensive and less compassionate.

What’s Your opinion?


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50 Responses to
Privatise the AMC? Madness!
1
Blen_Carmichael 9:03 am
02 Jan 17
#

“The proof is everywhere that this works and is not a danger to the officers as they say.”

Of course, how could anyone think a needle in the hands of prisoners could be a danger to prison officers?

John, have you ever heard of Geoffrey Pearce?

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s313015.htm

2
John Thistleton 9:53 am
02 Jan 17
#

A warder at Goulburn Jail, probably Australia’s most notorious, was once asked if he feared for his life among the inmates who included serial killers and terrorists. No, he said, most of them were inside because they were poor and unable to read. They were on the welfare ladder’s lowest step, and warders were in the main welfare providers. The profit-driven private sector shouldn’t be responsible for these people. We all should be, through publicly-funded jails.

3
dungfungus 9:54 am
02 Jan 17
#

Whatever they do with it, it will still end up being controlled by the unions and other vested interests.

4
dungfungus 10:17 am
02 Jan 17
#

John Thistleton said :

A warder at Goulburn Jail, probably Australia’s most notorious, was once asked if he feared for his life among the inmates who included serial killers and terrorists. No, he said, most of them were inside because they were poor and unable to read. They were on the welfare ladder’s lowest step, and warders were in the main welfare providers. The profit-driven private sector shouldn’t be responsible for these people. We all should be, through publicly-funded jails.

And Ivan Milat is really a humanitarian.

There is something wrong with the system when the victims are perceived to be the ones locked up.

5
No_Nose 11:20 am
02 Jan 17
#

“I mourn for the prisoners in the AMC, I mourn for their families, I mourn for the officers, I mourn for the community and I mourn for the hope I felt in that facility”

No mourning for the victims of these criminals though?

Typical.

6
watto23 11:23 am
02 Jan 17
#

dungfungus said :

Whatever they do with it, it will still end up being controlled by the unions and other vested interests.

Umm just about everything is controlled by people with vested interests and not with the publics best interests. This thing about being anti-union when business and corporations do EXACTLY the same thing, just shows how facts are an inconvenient truth for some.

Privatising a jail though is a bad idea. I’ve seen what cuts IT companies do just to make money, while continually cutting the price of their services to the government and trying to increase their profit margin. IT we can live with, life has moved on after the ATO and ABS issues this year, but in a jail, I can only imagine the outrage from people like yourself if a murderer escaped and then your subsequent grasping at straws to blame either the unions or the government.

You are right though, vested interests are the issues along with greed. Our political system is run by greedy people and greedy donors with vested interests. If affects every party, and none are better than each other.

7
rommeldog56 11:42 am
02 Jan 17
#

watto23 said :

You are right though, vested interests are the issues along with greed. Our political system is run by greedy people and greedy donors with vested interests. If affects every party, and none are better than each other.

Well said. How true.

8
Masquara 12:23 pm
02 Jan 17
#

Focus on outcomes and let go of your soft-left schtick, John. There’s no reason why a private operator shouldn’t be able to manage the facility perfectly well. They will probably be more open to useful ideas than the bureaucrats have ever been. In any case, why do Indigenous inmates need quiet spaces and special programs more than non-indigenous? There are all sorts of disadvantaged categories of people who would respond well to considerate care. On uniforms: of course there should be uniforms to make it clear to inmates that there is a necessary hierarchy here. Remember how some family courts reintroduced judicial robing to counter disrespect from clients? Overall, I really would not be keen on a “hi guys, we’re just like you” approach from the prison officers. How about “put in some effort, show a good attitude and we’ll think about giving you some privileges”.

9
Rebecca Vassarotti 3:54 pm
02 Jan 17
#

Masquara said :

Focus on outcomes and let go of your soft-left schtick, John. There’s no reason why a private operator shouldn’t be able to manage the facility perfectly well. They will probably be more open to useful ideas than the bureaucrats have ever been.”

I think the running of off shore detention centers by private operators is a good example of some of the concerns about this approach. Not only have we seen billions of tax payer dollars going to these companies with little understanding what is happening in the facilities, we have also seen the Government walking away from transparency and accountability, and abdicate responsibilities such as providing appropriate health and other services. Some things need to remain in public hands and the AMC is definitely one of these.

10
Acton 6:13 pm
02 Jan 17
#

John Hargreaves, while a Corrections Minister, instigated a conjugal visit program for AMC prisoners. Something about the importance of maintaining relationships through incarceration to avoid recidivism…

It was a silly idea. One of many. Occupants of the Monaro Marriott are there because they are the worst of the worst – including rape, assault, domestic violence, child sex etc

Those romantic candle-lit conjugal visits would have to be closely supervised (and who wanted that job?) to meet duty of care responsibilities and protect the horny prisoner’s love interest. The program stalled for security reasons.

Anyway, if John H thinks conjugal visits for prisoners is a good idea then he should not be undermining (again) his former boss Jon S who suggests a privatised AMC may improve management.

A privatised prison would be run as a profit making, cost recovery venture with conjugal visits on a user pays basis.

11
Rachel Moore 6:18 pm
02 Jan 17
#

Great article John. Super sad though. To think we could have been international leaders with safe injecting and best practice. Such a shame.
I’m afraid John I seem to have more questions than answers about AMC. I am quite curious about recidivism rates. What will be the impact of the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit? How will the integration of a medical model of care and justice exist side by side? What about the women? My limited understanding is that perhaps they don’t have access to as many facilities as male offenders. What about transgender offenders? Like I said John, more questions than answers.

12
rommeldog56 9:02 pm
02 Jan 17
#

Acton said :

A privatised prison would be run as a profit making, cost recovery venture with conjugal visits on a user pays basis.

Hahaha…..best comment on RiotAct this year…….! ROFL

13
John Hargreaves 7:55 am
03 Jan 17
#

No_Nose said :

“I mourn for the prisoners in the AMC, I mourn for their families, I mourn for the officers, I mourn for the community and I mourn for the hope I felt in that facility”

No mourning for the victims of these criminals though?

Typical.

Just for the record I Am patron of the Victims Of Crime Assistance League VOCAL. And I refer you to the report in the Legislative Assembly on the forgotten victims of crime, a report from a committee I chaired.

14
John Hargreaves 9:35 am
03 Jan 17
#

Rachel Moore said :

Great article John. Super sad though. To think we could have been international leaders with safe injecting and best practice. Such a shame.
I’m afraid John I seem to have more questions than answers about AMC. I am quite curious about recidivism rates. What will be the impact of the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit? How will the integration of a medical model of care and justice exist side by side? What about the women? My limited understanding is that perhaps they don’t have access to as many facilities as male offenders. What about transgender offenders? Like I said John, more questions than answers.

good bunch of questions which tax the minds of many

Hi Rachel. A good bunch of questions. My approach has been to have harm minimisation so that if the body is not in crisis, the mind may be receptive to positive suggestion. A simple answer to a complex question.

The mental health unit is a great introduction to the system. Some people commit crimes during a mental health episode and should be treated not incarcerated as a punishment. Separating those with acute mental illnesses is essential if those with and those without mental issues are to be restored to society. The tricky bit is that some present with multiple diagnoses and working out whether those with aberrant behaviours are due to mental illness or drug and alcohol influences or anything else, all of which require different approaches to rehabilitation and subsequent restoration.

Not sure if this helps.

15
Mysteryman 11:01 am
03 Jan 17
#

I looked at the recidivism question and concluded that if we treated offenders with respect and compassion, we were more likely to stop recidivism than treating offenders as animals

And how wrong you were.

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