A view of pale hills

Prisons Human rights Australian Capital Territory

It’s five years since Canberra’s innovative Alexander Maconochie Centre admitted its first group of prisoners. Is the facility living up to its aim of being Australia’s first “human rights compliant” prison?

MEMBERS of the visiting media pack are lined up in the reception area of the Alexander Maconochie Centre to be subjected to a sniff check by the K9 security unit. I resist the urge to pat the attractive tan-and-white dog as it makes a first pass at our shoes. Our mobile phones, wallets and other possessions are secured in lockers, and an officer in blue overalls has warned us that it is a serious offence to take any banned items into the prison.

As the PAD (Passive Alert Detection) dog makes another sweep, this time lifting up its nose to sniff our pockets, a woman in front of me is struggling with the IrisAccess™ 4000, a wall-mounted scanner used to capture an image of her eyes. The eye scan is a prerequisite for first-time entry into the prison and, in theory at least, reduces the time needed for security checks on subsequent visits.

“Try standing back a bit further,” the officer on the reception desk suggests. Thankfully, we journalists are not required to submit to this process; as the happy pooch makes its third and final pass of the media pack, the scanner, the visitor and the officer are still struggling to capture a satisfactory image. “No, sorry, try again. This time it doesn’t like the angle of your head…”

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