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Doubt on jail drug smuggle numbers

Date

Christopher Knaus

Shane Rattenbury says there are strong measures in place to keep drugs out.

Shane Rattenbury says there are strong measures in place to keep drugs out. Photo: Elesa Lee

Visitors were caught trying to smuggle drugs into Canberra's jail just four times during a 12-month period, sparking criticisms that the government is not doing enough to keep illicit substances from getting through to inmates.

Five visitors were caught allegedly attempting to smuggle heroin, drug paraphernalia, syringes, cannabis or tablets in four incidents over 2011-12.

Four of the five visitors have been charged by police, while another is still under investigation over an attempt to bring in a small amount of heroin and three syringes in August 2011.

Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury admitted the number of visitors caught was ''interesting'', but said there were strong measures in place to keep drugs out.

''It is an interesting number, I would have anticipated more, but those are the number we have,'' Mr Rattenbury said.

''I think there's good measures in place, and again, it is an area where we will need to continue to think about whether there are new strategies that need to be added.''

Drug use inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre, as with most correctional institutions, is common.

An Inmate Health Survey, conducted in May 2010, found 32 per cent of inmates reported injecting drugs inside the AMC, while 91 per cent reported lifetime use of illicit drugs, most often cannabis, amphetamines and heroin.

Former inmates, speaking anonymously, have previously told Fairfax Media that visitation is the most common avenue for drugs to get inside the facility.

But prison authorities do employ a wide range of tactics to prevent visitors smuggling contraband to inmates.

ACT Corrective Services can monitor the calls and correspondence of detainees, and liaise regularly with police to gain intelligence on possible smuggling

attempts. Detainees can be searched after visits, and all visits are video recorded using CCTV cameras to help detect items being passed to inmates.

If smuggling is suspected, inmates are separated by a physical barrier that prohibits any physical contact.

Guards conduct walk-throughs, use hand-held metal detectors, and can search the cars of visitors before and during visits.

Random sniffer dog searches are also used.

Offending visitors can be banned from the jail for a temporary period, typically up to 12 months for drug-related offences.

Opposition Leader and corrections spokesman Zed Seselja criticised the ACT government over the low number of detections.

"The ACT Labor government is not serious about the issue of drugs being smuggled into the jail,'' Mr Seselja said.

''They do not have the proper systems in place for the guards to do their job effectively.''

The proposed trial of a one-for-one needle exchange in the ACT's jail has, in part, relied upon the government's assertion that there was no way to stem the tide of drugs making their way into the jail.

That claim was continuously disputed by the opposition during last year's heated debate over the proposed needle exchange.

"These new statistics along with ACT Labor's other management failures make a mockery of their claim that they could effectively manage a needle exchange at the prison,'' Mr Seselja said.

But former inmate and prisoner advocate Brett Collins, who works with the Sydney-based Justice Action group, says it is ''impossible'' to completely stop drugs getting into correctional facilities.

''A lot of money has been spent.

''The security in the AMC's system is actually really high,'' Mr Collins said.

''There's no way of stopping drugs coming in, even with things being thrown in over the wall … it's impossible to have an impermeable prison, that just does not occur.''

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