Assesses the treatment of women at the ACT's only jail, the Alexander Maconochie Centre, against the benchmark of international human rights enshrined in the ACT Human Rights Act and related anti-discrimination legislation.
The review considered the effect and implementation of Territory laws governing the treatment of women detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) pursuant to the Human Rights Act 2004 (HR Act) and her functions under the Discrimination Act 1991 and the Human Rights Commission Act 2005.
This Audit was commenced in response to concerns raised with the Commissioner by a number of stakeholders about perceived inequalities faced by the small number of women detained at the AMC compared with the much larger male population in the prison.
The Audit assesses the law, policy and practices of the AMC, which has been operational for five years, in relation to the treatment of women detainees against the benchmark of international human rights norms enshrined in the HR Act, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other relevant international standards. These include the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders.
The ACT is a small jurisdiction with a single full-time prison facility, the AMC, accommodating both male and female detainees within separate precincts. The number of women detainees in the AMC, including remandees, is low, with a daily average of 14 women in 2012-13, compared with 252 men. In this period, women detainees made up just 5.2% of the total prison population in the ACT, compared to the Australian average for women detainees of 7.5%. While there are a small number of women detainees serving long sentences at the AMC, the average stay for other women detainees is around 100 days, including time on remand.
Overall, many of the issues identified in the Audit reflect the significant challenges posed by the small and fluctuating population of women detainees with a diverse range of individual needs.
In general, the Commissioner found that women detainees at AMC are treated humanely in custody, and that correctional staff and management are respectful of the particular needs and vulnerabilities of women. The extended Throughcare Program to support detainees during the critical months after release from prison is a welcome development. This is available to all women released from the AMC, including those held on remand.
Nevertheless, the Commissioner is concerned that rehabilitation services available to women detainees are in some respects more limited than those available to male detainees. In particular, women detainees have significantly less access to structured employment opportunities within the prison than men. Women are also not able to access some programs and facilities available to men such as the Solaris Therapeutic Community, and the Transitional Release Cottage. While there are quality educational courses and programs offered to women, these are not sufficient to fill their days with purposeful activity. Activities and programs that are available are also disrupted by operational issues, and the women’s cottages appeared to be locked down more often than other areas of the prison as a result of staffing shortages. The Commissioner considers that more could be done to foster a culture within the women’s area where women are expected to follow a routine and participate in daily activities that are conducive to rehabilitation.
Another area of particular concern identified in the Audit is the operation of the Women and Children’s program at the AMC. Although it was intended that women who are the primary carers of young children could have their children stay with them at the AMC, where this was in the best interests of the child, no application has yet been approved. The assessment process appears to be overly complex and protracted, and the program requires women to have an available carer in the community and another detainee to provide care for the child where needed, which may disadvantage women and children who do not have these supports.
In this Audit the Commissioner has focused on identifying improvements that could be made to service provision for women detainees within the AMC to improve equality, such as the development of a prison industry to provide more structured employment opportunities for all detainees. The Report also highlights areas for consideration over the longer term, such as the development of a transitional release facility for women detainees. Key findings in each section of the Report are summarised below.
Special notice: if you downloaded the PDF of this report through Policy Online before 3:00pm on Wednesday 30 July, you may have downloaded an incorrect (draft) version. The correct version can be accessed through the link above.