Aboriginal rights advocates have strongly condemned ACT Corrective Services for attempting to minimise a racist attack by prison staff on an Indigenous prisoner in Canberra's human rights jail.
The racist attack was in the form of a game of "hangman" played on a whiteboard by prison staff within a staff-only area of the Alexander Maconochie Centre and was the subject of an ACT Administrative and Civil Tribunal hearing and outcome.
The drawing is from 2018 and contained the letters in the name of a detainee with a mental disability held at the prison. A close friend of that prisoner is a client of the Dhurrawang Aboriginal Human Rights program.
It comes at a time when the ACT has the nation's highest recidivism rate of its Indigenous prisoners.
The image depicts an Aboriginal man hanging while a boat sails past with the words SERT inscribed on it.
SERT is understood to be an acronym for the jail's Special Emergency Response Team, although this is disputed by ACT Correction. The people on the boat appear to be celebrating.
The Minister for Corrective Services, Shane Rattenbury, said that he was personally appalled by the incident and described it as "deeply regrettable and frankly offensive".
Canberra Community Law has publicly released the image as it says the "full story regarding the image in question was not released and the Commissioner [of Corrective Services] statement fails to provide either the appropriate context nor an accurate description of the image".
"The man depicted hanging in the image is an Aboriginal man who has a disability," the executive director of Canberra Community Law Genevieve Bolton said in a statement.
"That man is close to our client but remains unaware of the image," the statement read.
"Our client knows well that man's disabilities and his difficult life story and feels highly protective of him."
The man heard about the "hangman" and said he had heard "the guards laughing and joking about the disgusting image".
"The realisation that people entrusted with our care think and behave in this way is frightening," he said.
The man received what is described as a "robust apology" but a solicitor with Canberra Community Law, Naomi Gould, said the rush by the department to issue a statement on Wednesday came across as its attempt at damage control.
"We were surprised at how quickly Corrections issued their statement and concerned at how little detail it contained," Ms Gould said.
"This was damage control. They wanted to publicly manage this outcome."
She said that the victim of the racist attack by prison staff remained unaware of the incident but there is deep concern for his mental health if and when he finds out.
"He is not a well man," she said.
On Wednesday, the Commissioner of ACT Corrections, Jon Peach, described the image as "abhorrent".
"There is nothing to suggest this is no more than the action of one individual at the AMC," Mr Peach said.
"The majority of my staff come in and do a very difficult job every day. We have been working extremely hard to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the prison and we continue to do so."