Justice Action Report
AMC PRISONERS’ CONSULTATION: November 8, 2011
This Report was prepared following an all day Consultation with Alexander Maconachie Centre(AMC) prisoners. It was conducted by community members with special experience and standing in the prisoner and general community. Participants were: Kat Armstrong, Robert Barco, Brett Collins, Kiki Korpinen, Christopher Puplick, and Julie Tongs.
We acknowledge ACT Corrective Services for supporting the Consultation and distributing the Notice and Questions during the weekend before. Those documents are attached. We were disappointed that an observer remained in the room, and that the management of the prison didn’t meet with us. We were very pleased to meet with the AMC prisoner delegates and the prison officer union representatives.
We were concerned that the consultation process may have been affected by being overseen by a Corrective Services employee, and by the limited participation of representatives of the male prisoners, especially given that it wasn’t clear whether those individuals had direct experience of injecting drug use. For those and other logistical reasons we decided not to formally quantify responses from the delegates. In developing its previous report, PHAA chose to consult with people who had direct experience of injecting drug use that had recently left the AMC. The message from those consultations was overwhelming support for a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP).
Nine male prisoner delegates presented the views of those in the nine areas. We met four of the five female prisoners as a separate group earlier in the day.
There was significant support expressed for the introduction of an NSP in the AMC, as well as some opposition.
Participants in the consultation emphasised the importance of prisoner participation and involvement in the development of operational policies, procedures, protocols, standards and evaluation processes, which would need to be established to address the widespread infection, and broader health issues.
There were a variety of views expressed, with different levels of support and opposition for the NSP for diverse reasons. Those consulted agreed that there were too many unresolved issues for a general consensus to be reached. It is a complex personal and social health issue. There are many questions to resolve including the legal status of possession of equipment, targeting of people through urinalysis, anonymity, privacy and parole decisions.
It was agreed that prisoners wouldn’t prevent other prisoners from getting the benefit of clean equipment, or getting proper health support.
It was agreed that in practice a sharpened toothbrush is a much more effective weapon than a used syringe. It was agreed that there is a substantial fear factor associated with the latter, despite the likelihood of transmission of blood-borne viruses from needlestick injury being low. Medical advances with infection control have reduced the potential consequences of an attack with a used syringe, even if you could gain access to the HIV virus, which is almost absent in prison. They acknowledged that Hepatitis C in particular currently poses a high risk of infection from shared injecting equipment. Some said they would be prepared to issue a statement that they reject the use of a needle as a weapon, for a whole range of reasons.
Prisoner delegates said that there are a number of immediate issues requiring attention if the ACT Government is really interested in their health, human rights and not re-offending upon their release.
Delegates are currently preparing detailed material around several headings. Key issues include the incentive of remission to change their behaviour rather than being helpless waiting for time to pass. This would enable them to earn their release – based on the successful principles of Alexander Maconochie. His ‘marks’ system gave some control of the length of the sentence to the prisoners and their actions, and a recidivism level of 2% was the result.
Other issues raised were access to relevant education and training so they could prepare for release; improved gym equipment and access; and better food to regain their health.
1. Implementation of health programs should ensure continued involvement of prisoners in the development of implementation processes; with prisoners themselves sharing responsibility for both uptake of and compliance with new programs.
2. Prisoners should have direct input to the direction of health policy and programs within the AMC. Prisoners should be involved in the development and oversight of implementation and evaluation processes designed to achieve agreed policy outcomes.
3. Implementation of legislative change to enable the introduction of a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) in the AMC for those who wish to use it.
4. Development and implementation of enhanced education and vocational training programs for prisoners with a view to facilitating engagement with community-based education, training and employment options on release and reducing rates of recidivism. Opportunities to develop new skills and undertake education would also contribute to enhanced mental health outcomes for prisoners.
5. Improved access to nutritious food and various forms of physical activity with a view to promoting positive health and rehabilitation outcomes for prisoners, including provision of improved equipment and access to the gym.
6. Development and implementation of a remission system based on the principles of Alexander Maconochie’s “marks” system, to encourage prisoners to engage with health, education and other rehabilitation programs designed tofacilitate transition to community and reduce rates of recidivism post-release. Such a measure would also help to address the demand for drugs within the prison, which are often used as an escape mechanism by those facing an otherwise helpless and hopeless situation.
November 11, 2011