A damning review of the conditions at Canberra's adult jail has painted a "bleak picture" of the jail, warning growing overcrowding in the prison could lead to dangerous breaches of the human rights of inmates and staff.
The territory's Inspector of Correctional Services Neil McAllister's first full review of treatment of remandees in the Alexander Maconochie Centre was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.
It is the latest of a string of reviews, audits and inquiries that have painting a damning picture of the treatment of inmates inside the prison over several years, including an inquiry into the death in custody of Steven Freeman.
Mr McAllister reported that no comfort could be taken from the fact that prisoner numbers were routinely exceeding 100 per cent capacity, given the need for a buffer to allow for new detainees to be accommodated.
"There is a limit as to how many bodies can be crammed into the AMC before conditions became intolerable and/or dangerous to detainees and staff, and the basic human rights of both are put at risk," the report reads.
Despite the concerns detailed in the report, Corrective Services Minister Shane Rattenbury has rejected calls to expand the prison, instead recently detailing plans to open a neighbouring centre to accommodate bailed inmates as they move back into the community.
In addition to the overcrowding issues, it highlighted staffing issues leading to more 'lock-ins' of inmates at during normal 'un-lock' schedules; and an "inappropriate and unacceptable" induction regime that could lead to inmates' self-harm and suicide.
One male detainee told the review team that he was stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day; "my brain turns on itself and becomes the source my worst pain and torture," he said.
The review found that in the March to April period last year, there were 236 lock-ins, of which 68 or 29 per cent were due to staff shortages and 99 were attributed to staff training, or a total of 71 per cent in total were related to staffing issues.
The review also found that there was no practical difference in the treatment of remanded and convicted inmates, and some were being held together in the same cell; while female detainees were being held in an unsuitable high security section.
Holding female inmates in that section, the review found, was inappropriate and meant the female detainees had to walk past male inmates to access the clinic and visits, raising the risk females previously sexually abused or exposed to family violence could be re-traumatised in the process.
The review showed the 2017 move of female detainees also contradicted the design philosophy of the prison and, in the review team's view, was "a significant limitation of the women's human rights".
It also found a lack of access to the outdoors and exercise for female detainees could lead to more physical and mental health problems, they were not supplied with enough meaningful activities, including parenting programs.
It also found female remandees with being held in restrictive conditions that did not meet their legal status.
Mr McAllister's report made 39 concerning findings about conditions inside the prison, including that holding remandees and convicted prisoners together did not meet the government's own legislation governing the jail, nor international human rights law.
The jail was opened in 2008 and was trumpeted at the time as Australia's first human rights-complaint prison; but has failed to live up to the claims and has suffered from nation-wide increases in Australia's prison population.
The review shows inmates were the subject of prolonged lock-ins, during lunch time and other hours, which may amount to an an "unreasonable limitation" on inmates right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty.
"Detainees are subject to planned and unplanned lock-ins which has resulted in the ACT being one of the worst
performing jurisdictions with regards to time out-of-cells," the report reads.
"New reception detainees are often held on highly restricted regimes while undergoing assessment, resulting in as little as one hour out-of-cells per day due to them being accommodated in a unit with “mainstream” detainees."
Mr McAllister also wrote it was not possible to determine if prisoners were actually being given the minimum requirements for access to open air and exercise, as enshrined in the Corrections Management Act, nor were there enough telephones for the number of inmates.
The review also found there was no separate, culturally appropriate place for indigenous detainees to meet and talk, though "yarning circles" conducted in other areas had had a positive effect for some indigenous inmates.
it also found there was no actual policy governing the treatment of remandees in the prison, despite being a requirement of the Corrections Management Act.
The review made no recommendations, on the basis the government did not to be told what to the best remedies, were, though Mr McAllister would revisit the findings in a further review this year.
The report warned that unless the "justice conveyor belt" could be slowed in the ACT, it would fail to live up to the mantle of being 'human rights compliant'.
Mr Rattenbury said while a formal response would be provided in due course, the government took the findings very seriously, and corrective services was already taking steps to address the issues raised in the report
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