Up to 80 men classified as low-risk prisoners will be housed beyond the high-security double fence of Canberra's prison under a bold scheme to ease growing inmate population pressure and better prepare them for life "on the outside".
The government plans to build four separate accommodation blocks by 2021 which will be part of a new "reintegration centre", effectively boosting the capacity of the prison to 591 detainees but at the same time moving out those who pose the least risk to the community.
The reintegration plan by Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury aims to help break the cycle of recidivism and "throw down the gauntlet to ourselves" to "build communities, not prisons".
In a frank and open admission, he said that the alternative was to spend "somewhere north of $200 million in capital cost" plus more than a $100 million over four years in related costs just to build more accommodation within the prison's secure perimeter.
"If we did that we would simply build larger warehouses that would be filled up and we would continue the justice cycle as we now see it," Mr Rattenbury said.
When the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Hume opened in 2009 to replace the former Belconnen Remand Centre and permit the transfer of sentenced Canberra prisoners held in NSW jails, it was expected to house 270 prisoners. In 2015-16, it grew by a further 169 beds.
Space for a further 72 inmates was then added through double-bunking in the cells. The prison reached a population peak of 507 in June last year.
Such is the significant internal pressure now that the original intention to separate remandees, comprising around 38 per cent of the population, from sentenced prisoners is logistically unachievable.
A budget of $997,000 from the government's mid-year review has been allocated to plan and design the new centre, which will be surrounded by a medium security fence.
While design ideas for the centre are to be finalised, the minister envisaged that it would have separate rooms for each prisoner, no lock-ins at night, the ability for detainees to cook for themselves and to wash and clean their own clothing.
During the day, various programs would be set up to assist reintegration including life skills, literacy and numeracy for those requiring it, as well as on-the-job training and employment.
Due to the lack of sufficient industry training within the prison, which was one of the significant findings from the 2016 Moss report into the death in custody of Indigenous detainee Stephen Freeman, most inmates from the reintegration centre would need to leave the prison's Hume precinct and be bussed out for workplace training.
No calculations have been offered on what these external programs would cost, nor how the detainees would be managed across multiple external workplaces but "either way it would be a much cheaper and cost-effective way" of managing the load on the prison system, and achieving better social outcomes.
Small scale, non-government programs already operating in the ACT, such as the Worldview program for Indigenous ex-detainees, are intensive and participants require the close guidance of experienced mentors.
The Worldview example revealed that many detainees transitioning into life "on the outside" required regular help throughout their daily lives, including transport to and from their regular appointments with parole officers and support services.
Mr Rattenbury said that "instead of spending money on building more cells ... we would spend the money on a range of social programs that are designed to break the criminal cycle, to frankly take a different approach to justice, to do something a bit bold, and do something that the academics have been telling us for years we should do if we want to make a serious difference."
He admitted that one of the significant handicaps of having one, high-security prison to serve the entire ACT is the lack of flexibility within it to develop a regime which provides meaningful incentives for detainees.
"Most good corrections centres run on incentive systems," he said.
"So if you are a detainee who is following your case management plan, participating in programs and all is going well for you, you may get to go to the reintegration centre where you have more privileges, greater flexibility and access to more programs."
The ACT government has been trialling and testing small-scale support projects for ex-detainees in transition over several years, including the Ainslie-based High Density Housing (now renamed Strong Connected Neighbourhoods), the Aboriginal bail support program and the Yarrabi Bamirr justice reinvestment. All of these have been given ongoing funding.
As design work for the reintegration centre is prepared, a new bail accommodation transition support service providing eight to 10 beds will also provide another pressure relief for the prison system.
The government will invest $6.8 million in this service which will cater for those who would usually be granted bail by the courts but only on the condition that they have secure housing.
This service would prevent those at low risk being remanded in custody.