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Appropriations Bill Debate: Corrections

Thank you, Madam Speaker. During the last appropriations debate, I spoke about the state of our corrections system. I spoke about the staff shortages, the consequent overtime, the assaults and the riot and the fires. Today, in response to the bill, I rise to speak about the future of our corrections system.

Modern prisons serve two primary functions. To protect the public and rehabilitate the people within its walls.

Good things can be brought to pass by people who have made serious mistakes in their past, but they need help in getting themselves on a better path to become contributing members of society on release. As things stand, the government is not doing enough to help these people and it is well past the time that they started doing so.

There is much to improve at the AMC. Better conditions for the staff and increased investment in rehabilitation tools for detainees are just a couple of areas where we can do better.

In the ACT, we have a prison that lags years behind other jurisdictions and according to the October 2021 report from the Productivity Commission, the ACT also has the highest recidivism rate in the entire country at 78%! This is a damning condemnation of the government’s performance and says something about their commitment or rather, their non-commitment, to the people in it.

When it comes to improving the prison and being forward thinking about how we do things at the AMC, the Labor-Greens government have been all over the place.

For example, in 2010, the AMC had a body scanner which was regarded as quite forward thinking at the time. Other jurisdictions such as NSW only started implementing them in 2018. As NSW was phasing them in, this government was phasing them out and turning them off and are only now bringing them back in once they realised what a dumb and time-wasting move that taking them offline was.

In the justice reinvestment space, a capstone investment of more than $30 million dollars to support the reintegration of detainees was announced in last year’s budget and then quietly put on hold not long after.

This is a sign of a government that is unstable and unfit to govern. How is it acceptable that a $30 million reintegration centre can be written into a budget and less than 12 months later, put on hold and its future be put in doubt?

Putting this centre on hold is a huge step back in the push to provide proper and effective rehabilitation for our detainees. It is a sign that they do not care.

This delay is made even more unfortunate when considering the limited use that the existing Transitional Release Centre (TRC) has seen. Detainees have complained that it is almost impossible to be accepted into the program. Last year only 12 detainees were able to use it and since December 2020 only one application to get into the program has been approved. The TRC policy has been revised to make it more clear to detainees how to access the program. However, there is still a catch. One of the criteria that detainees must meet is a certain level under the Incentives and Earned Privileges Policy. This policy doesn’t even exist! So then how are detainees able to be properly rehabilitated when the policy they need to enter the TRC is a ghosted policy! This is unacceptable.

Further evidence that this government is squandering this program is found in the 2021 Report on Government services (ROGS) which reveals that just 0.1% of detainees were able to access work release programs.

The TRC was a much-needed investment for the rehabilitation and changing of the lives of detainees, but it is barely being utilised.

Sometimes in life, you need to take a step back and see where all the pieces fall. And in that time, you should do everything in your power to see things and implement change where it needs to change. However, with this government, they have been stepping back, and like an ostrich, thrusting their heads into the sand.

Programs, skills development, and education are severely lacking at our prison. The opportunities provided to detainees to engage in further education and training are few and far between.

In this city, we have a golden opportunity to improve the delivery of education and programs to better help our detainees reform their lives and succeed outside the prison walls. I believe all detainees should have the chance to utilise these. The implementation of effective education and programs are vital tools for helping reduce recidivism and changing the lives of detainees.

The people who are being released should be leaving behind their bad habits, bad influences, and negatives outlooks in the shadows of the prison walls. Instead, over three quarters of offenders in the ACT are reoffending. This puts the public’s safety at risk. It puts families and children’s safety at risk, and it is a disgrace. They need a proper rehabilitation facility for their benefit and for the benefit of Canberrans.

The future of our prison and those behind its walls is the responsibility of this government. Or Corrections Officers and other staff at the AMC need all the support they can get. Theirs is a difficult work that the community doesn’t always see, but it keeps the community safe, and I want to thank them for all that they do.

Thank you.


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