Prison and Community Corrections

Contributed by Lorana Bartels and Caroline Doyle and current to September 2018.


The ACT opened its first prison - the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) - in 2009. Before that, all people sentenced in the ACT to a prison sentence were kept in prisons in NSW. As the only prison in the ACT, the AMC houses male and female detainees (the ACT term for prisoners) at all classification levels (minimum, medium, maximum). It also houses both unsentenced (remand) and sentenced detainees.

The AMC is the first (and only) prison in Australia designed and built to operate as a 'human rights' prison.

According to ACT Corrective Services (which runs the AMC), accommodation at the AMC includes cell-blocks, domestic style cottages, a medical centre and special areas for detainees in crisis or transitioning to the community. The AMC is designed in an open campus style design, with accommodation units around a central facilities area. This includes a health building, as well as areas for admissions, education and programs and visits.

Many detainees live in cottages. These are designed to enable detainees to develop and practise living skills.

The AMC has seen a significant rise in numbers since it opened in 2009. By December 2017, there were over 468 detainees (compared with 256 five years earlier). Of these, approximately 21% were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, 8% were female and 36% were unsentenced. The specific issues relating to each of these categories of detainees are discussed further below.

Relevant Legislative and Policy Frameworks

There are many laws, policies and procedures which govern the life of detainees in the AMC. These policies and procedures deal with issues such as access to health care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees, smoking in prisons, infectious diseases, the spirit in which correctional programs should be administered, and the management and security of detainees. Some of the policies are restricted (not available for the public to see). The most important piece of legislation that governs the treatment of detainees in the ACT is the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT). Other important legislation includes: As set out above, the AMC is the only 'human rights' prison in Australia. This is in part because the ACT is one of only two states or territories in Australia with a human rights framework (the other is Victoria). The Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) incorporates the rights in the international United Nations document the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). The most relevant provisions in the ICCPR for prisoners are the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7) and the statement that '[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person' (Article 10(1)). Article 10(3) states that reformation and social rehabilitation is the essential aim of the treatment of prisoners in the penitentiary system.

The provisions in the Human Rights Act (based on the ICCPR) that are relevant to detainees are section 10, which puts Article 7 of the ICCPR into effect and section 22, which gives effect to Article 10(1). The Human Rights Act also imposes duties on public authorities, including the AMC. This means it is illegal to act in a way that is inconsistent with the human rights prescribed in the HRA and the AMC is required to consider these rights when making decisions (ss 40, 40B of the Human Rights Act ). The Human Rights Act also gives people the right to bring legal action in relation to alleged breaches of duty by public authorities to comply with the provisions of the Human Rights Act (ie, if a corrections officer does not follow rules on human rights (ss 40B, 40C), although the law also states that all of the human rights provided for in the Human Rights Act may be subject to reasonable limits set by Territory laws (s 28).

The other provisions of the Human Rights Act that are mainly relevant to detainees relate to:
  • recognition and equality before the law (s 8)
  • protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (s 10)
  • protection of liberty and security of person (s 18)
  • humane treatment when deprived of liberty (s 19)
  • the various rights relating to a fair trial (s 21), criminal proceedings (s 22), compensation for wrongful conviction (s 23) and the right not to be tried or punished more than once (s 24).
  • freedom of movement (s 13), association (s 15), and expression (s 16).
The day-to-day management of the AMC is governed by the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT), which covers the following issues:
  • objects and principles
  • administration issues
  • detention in police and court cells
  • escorting detainees
  • living conditions at correctional centres
  • inspection of correctional centres
  • admission to correctional centres
  • management and security, including segregation, searches and seizing property
  • discipline
  • leave for full-time detainees
Functions under the Corrections Management Act (that is, operating the AMC) must be exercised in accordance with a list of 'rights' in section 9, namely:
  • respecting and protecting the detainee's human rights
  • ensuring the detainee's decent, humane and just treatment
  • preventing torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • ensuring the detainee is not subject to further punishment (in addition to the deprivation of liberty) only because of the conditions of detention
  • ensuring the detainee's conditions in detention comply with section 12
  • if the detainee is an offender, promoting, as far as practicable, their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
In addition, the principle that custodial sentences are imposed as punishment - and not for further punishment - is explicitly reflected in the Corrections Management Act as a general principle (see Preamble [2]). In relation to the segregation of prisoners specifically, section 89 provides: 'To remove any doubt, segregation under this part must not be used for punishment or disciplinary purposes'. However, s184 of the Corrections Management Act provides that separate confinement can still be imposed as a disciplinary measure.

Section 12 of the Corrections Management Act , which is referred to in s 9(e) above, provides 11 minimum living conditions 'to protect the human rights of detainees at correctional centres'. The minimum living conditions in section 12 mirror the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia, although neither of these are legally enforceable. These conditions include:
  • access to sufficient food and drink
  • access to suitable clothing and facilities for personal hygiene
  • suitable accommodation and bedding
  • reasonable access to open air and exercise
  • reasonable access to telephone, mail and other forms of communication
  • reasonable access to visits and
  • reasonable access to health services.
Chapter 6 of the Corrections Management Act explains these minimum living conditions in more detail and covers the matters contained in section 12, as well as issues such as:
  • the treatment of convicted and non-convicted detainees (s 44)
  • transfers to health facilities (s 54) and
  • religious, spiritual and cultural needs (s 55).

Inquiries into the AMC

There have been several recent inquiries into the operation of the AMC:

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