Improved processes, more and better-trained staff, upgrades to security and a need to raise education and training outcomes for prisoners are among the key findings from the ACT's first major review into the health of its only jail.
The ACT's independent Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister, has tabled his exhaustive 164-page "healthy prisons" review to the ACT Legislative Assembly, the first significant insight into the inner operations of the prison since his February review of remand care and management.
He has made a total of 73 recommendations addressing a raft of issues at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
The ACT Human Rights Commission was quick to seize on the issues documented in the review, highlighting inappropriate accommodation placement, and a lack of equality of opportunity to facilities, programs and services for female detainees at the prison.
The Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Helen Watchirs, has urged the government to accept all the recommendations and "continue to work constructively will all oversight agencies on its implementation".
Mr McAllister was appointed to the ACT inspector's role in the wake of a number of critical incidents and the damning Moss review into the 2016 death in custody of Indigenous detainee Steven Freeman.
As at July 1 this year, there were 462 prisoners held in Canberra's jail, of whom 101 were Indigenous. The jail constantly operates at or near capacity.
Prior to the construction of the Symonston prison, the ACT sent its sentenced prisoners into the NSW system.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre had planned to segregate remandees and sentenced prisoners in accordance with human rights law but quickly the pressure of numbers, a result of poor ACT Treasury prison population forecasting back in 2005, prevented this from occurring.
Now over 40 per cent of the prison population are remandees which is a hugely taxing on the prison's induction system and processes and blows out operating costs, the review has found.
Last year the Productivity Commission found the territory government spent a nation-leading $436 per prisoner per day, 52 per cent higher than the national average.
In the first six months of 2019, the jail received 373 people on remand and discharged 237. In the same period only 40 sentenced detainees were admitted to custody.
In what he described as a "complicated" prison, the inspector found the cocktail of population pressure and a mix of remandees and sentenced prisoners generated a number of detrimental knock-on effects, particularly in relation to purposeful activity.
For seven years, the prison has consistently failed to achieve its target of a minimum 9.5 out-of-cell hours for prisoners.
Boredom behind bars is a pervasive issue, even though the report notes the ACT has consistently recorded the nation's highest number of prisoners engaged in training and education.
Report card's key findings:
- Antiquated, centralised record-keeping system
- Insufficient staff to assist prisoner activities
- Officer recruit training below national standards
- Overcrowding of prisoners
- Poor recreation options for women
- Immediate need for a random cell and area search program
- Need for meaningful inmate activities and industry
But the Report of Government Services simply records enrolments, not achievements. This is where the ACT fails with just six of the 129 education awards in 2018-19 presented for a Certificate 1 level. The rest were statements of attainment.
The record does not sheet home blame to the prison's education manager but rather the cumulative effects of overcrowding, lack of staff for prison escorts, restrictions in mixing various prison cohorts - members of rival bikie gangs, as an example - and prisoners "cherry-picking" courses and dropping out.
In the prisoner survey, one anonymous female detainee replied: "what's the good in doing education one day a week or fortnight?"
Recreation opportunities are limited and few, but most especially for women whose opportunities to exercise outside are greatly curtailed because they are now in a part of the prison not designed for them.
The survey found 52 per cent of all detainees reported a lack of meaningful activity and yet the prison reported a 75.3 per cent employment rate. However, the report found the counting methodology flawed and only a relatively small number of detainees had meaningful jobs, or full-time jobs.
As one inmate said: "Prisoners are sitting around with nothing to do except for what they make for themselves. This is why there is a high drug use issue here and the cause of most disciplines stem from boredom".