Government must investigate systemic racism in Canberra’s prison

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today welcomed the appointment of Ms Christine Nixon as chair of the new Oversight Committee to develop a blueprint for change for the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) and Court Transport Unit.

However, ACTCOSS said that without an inquiry into systemic racism in Canberra’s prison, the injustice experienced by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander detainees engaged with the justice system would not be resolved.

Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO, said: “We are pleased to see that this new Oversight Committee will soon start work to help improve culture and oversee the implementation of recommendations from inquiries and reports.

“This oversight group will need to move promptly and comprehensively to rebuild trust. That must include close engagement with the community services sector, particularly Aboriginal community controlled organisations.

“Many of the issues in the AMC have been highlighted in previous reviews and inquiries but await to be resolved. AMC detainees are often unable to access productive education/work or rehabilitative supports. The ongoing practice of non-separation of sentenced people and people on remand in the AMC contradicts ACT corrections legislation and international human rights law.

“And while the ACT is the only jurisdiction to have a policy framework to support the implementation of a needle and syringe program in our prison, it has not yet been acted on.

“Data from the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2021 revealed that 63.4% of ACT adults released from prison returned to corrective services with a prison sentence or community corrections order within two years. This was the second highest rate in Australia, only just below the Northern Territory rate of 63.7%.

“The ROGS data also shows that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in Canberra are locked up at 19 times the rate of non-Indigenous people, making up 24% of the ACT’s average daily prisoner population.

“In the wake of historic allegations of racism, and the disturbing allegation early this year relating to the mistreatment of an Aboriginal woman on remand in the AMC, ACTCOSS supported a call by Julie Tongs OAM, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, for an independent inquiry into racism at the AMC.

“We were deeply disappointed that a motion by Elizabeth Kikkert MLA, Shadow Minister for Corrections, calling for an inquiry to investigate and document the incidence of institutional and systemic racism in relation to the AMC and to develop advice and recommendations to address and eliminate this racism was rejected by the ACT Government,” Dr Campbell concluded.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

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