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Ceasefire: Justice and Health address internal struggle at Alexander Maconochie Centre

Steven Trask

Published: December 6 2017 - 12:31PM

The government's health and justice bosses have signed a ceasefire after damning revelations came to light about deep-seated staff tensions within Canberra's prison.

Late last year an internal government audit was launched following reports of an internal struggle between justice and health officials at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

A confidential briefing from 2015 had previously concluded that the tensions had resulted in psychiatric experts at the prison being undermined, marginalised and ignored.

The government audit, delivered in June this year, recommended improvements to governance, information sharing and clinical practice among other changes at the prison.

In response, the directors-general of justice and health have agreed and signed a "high-level arrangement" aimed at getting their directorates working better together.

They have also established a group of senior executives to work through the suite of recommendations coming from the audit.

Psychologist Deon Gee first highlighted the failings in mental health services at the AMC in a confidential briefing in 2015.

Dr Gee's briefing addressed the "explicit tensions" between ACT Health's forensic mental health service and ACT Corrective Service's psychological and support services.

The forensic mental health team from ACT Health was being "undermined", "marginalised" and "micro-managed", according to Dr Gee.

He also said that forensic mental health staff were "oftentimes ignored" during crucial meetings to assess potentially-suicidal inmates.

Although Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said in 2016 that ACT Corrective Services did not support many of Dr Gee's statements, both directorates agreed late last year to an audit of the prison's mental health arrangements.

One of the key tasks set out in the audit's terms of reference was to "consider operational issues relating to the delivery of mental health services at AMC".

The terms of reference also made specific mention of the need for justice and health to have an effective working relationship.

"A strong partnership relationship between ACT Corrective Services psychological and support services and ACT health is critical to the delivery of mental health outcomes at the AMC," the terms read.

The audit was conducted by consultant and World Health Organisation advisor David McGrath, who was generally positive about arrangements at the prison.

"It is clear that all staff at the AMC are motivated to provide the best services possible," read the audit's executive summary, obtained by Fairfax Media.

"There is clear engagement with their service requirements and a pride in the services that are delivered by their respective agencies."

However, Mr McGrath's audit did also deliver a suite of recommendations to improve mental health services.

"The review makes recommendations regarding improved governance, transparency of roles and responsibilities, information sharing arrangements, models of care, clinical practice, staff training and management of the growth of the facility in the future," the executive summary read.

A spokesman for the Justice and Community Safety Directorate said ACT Corrective Services and ACT Health were working in concert to identify other opportunity to improve health services at the prison.

The most recent government figures show that the average daily number of prisoners inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre in 2016 was 445.

This was an increase of 95 per cent since 2010, when the average daily number of prisoners was 228.

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