The ACT government's management of Canberra's jail faced condemnation on two fronts on Wednesday, with a no-confidence motion against the Minister for Corrections in the ACT Assembly and detainee family members alarmed at the suspension of contact with detainees.
The no-confidence motion follows a scathing report from the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services that found the human rights of an Indigenous woman had been breached during a strip search at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
Standing orders were suspended in the Assembly on Wednesday as Liberals corrections spokeswomen Elizabeth Kikkert provided details of what she described as repeated breaches of human rights and standards at the prison.
"The prison is a self-contained bubble where rules are applied differently," Ms Kikkert told the Assembly.
"Unfortunately we have a number of areas where we, as Canberrans, do not perform well, and one of them is the prison."
Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman described the motion as a "stunt".
ACT Corrections confirmed the lockdown at the prison was ongoing in response to a staff member contracting COVID-19 last week and being active inside the prison for two days. The lockdown was initiated six days ago.
After the initial confirmation last week, no further information has been offered as to whether any prison staff or inmates have been infected.
It is believed that the staff member - described as "reasonably senior" in rank and not a corrections officer - was infected in the community and unknowingly brought it to the jail last week despite being vaccinated against COVID-19.
"All non-essential movements of both staff and detainees in the AMC, including movements to Zoom meeting facilities, have been suspended for a short time," the Justice and Community Safety directorate said in a statement.
"These measures were taken based on health advice."
No details could be provided on when virtual contact between detainees and family members would be resumed.
Meanwhile, a family member who contacted The Canberra Times on condition of anonymity so as to protect the identity of her partner in the prison, described how "the mental health of those in the jail is not addressed, now even the Zoom visits are cancelled and the only explanation is due to operational procedures".
"The management of the jail does not like the conditions being discussed, my partner fears harsh treatment if complaints are made to the [facility's] official visitor," she said.
"It concerns me that the jail indicates they have policies and procedures in place for dealing with COVID, when they simply don't. They just turn off the computers and no phone calls to family so the detainees have no contact at all with family.
"The situation in there will escalate and unfortunately the detainees, family and the general public will not be told about the situation, as usual."
Official visits to the jail have been suspended for weeks, robbing detainees of any independent and unmonitored contact with those outside the prison ACT system. Complaints can still be provided by email, but these can be intercepted and read by prison authorities.
The no-confidence motion against the minister was defeated on party lines.
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