Faced with no feasible way to separate remand prisoners from convicted prisoners inside Canberra's jail, an advisory committee has recommended the ACT government amend the pre-jail legislation which requires it.
Operations within Canberra's jail have been in breach of the Corrections Management ACT 2007 for years.
Under Section 44 of that act, the director-general of the Justice and Community Safety directorate is required to "ensure that convicted detainees are accommodated separately from non-convicted detainees".
However, the massive upswell in prisoner numbers in recent years, which has put the Alexander Macononchie Centre at or near maximum capacity on a regular basis, has forced a regular reshuffle of inmates within the prison.
Women prisoners are now lodged within the former high-security male block known as the Special Care Centre. To make matters worse, following the November 2020 riot, a number of the cells were rendered uninhabitable.
As the independent Inspector of Corrections, Neil McAllister, told the standing committee on Justice and Community Safety: "the names of the blocks at the AMC do not mean anything anymore."
He further noted that that "there is really no distinction at the AMC at all between the treatment of a person on remand and a convicted person".
While the government has been promoting policy initiatives and reforms under its "building communities, not prisons" strategy, the lack of appropriate physical infrastructure to separate the swelling cohort of inmates with different needs, such as vulnerable prisoners, women, first-time inmates, remanded and convicted prisoners, remains a prevailing issue.
Remand prisoners currently comprise 39 percent of the prison population, according to data provided to the standing committee by the former head of ACT Corrections.
Work is expected to start later this year on the 80-bed Reintegration Centre proposed for outside the maximum security wire. However, this is not seen as a solution to the remand issue but rather a way in which prisoners can start to adjust to life "on the outside" before release.
In 2004, when the construction of a Canberra prison was first proposed by former chief minister Jon Stanhope, he pitched a 139-bed section specifically for remand prisoners (to replace the Symonston and Belconnen centre) as well as a separate 175-bed section for sentenced prisoners and a 60-bed transitional centre for soon-to-be-released inmates.
Two years before the new jail was opened, former attorney-general Simon Corbell told the ACT Legislative Assembly that the prison's capacity "would meet the needs of our prisoner population well into the future ... certainly for the next 20 to 25 years".
As a result, the Belconnen Remand Centre closed in 2009, a year after the new jail began admitting prisoners.