Page 2140 - Week 08 - Tuesday, 3 August 2021

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In November 2020, the AMC experienced its first-ever riot—27 detainees aggressively confronted officers and lit multiple fires, destroying an entire accommodation unit and causing $5.7 million in property damage. The prison has not fully recovered. The wing can be rebuilt, but we may never know the damage inflicted on the mental health of the corrections officers.

The minister’s failures put officers’ safety and potentially their lives on the line. As we now know, this government failed to provide adequate emergency management training in the lead-up to the riot. Only 33 per cent of staff reported that they were familiar with AMC emergency instructions, only 23 per cent said that emergency instructions were clear, and only a meagre nine per cent agreed that earlier training had been effective in responding to this incident. Seventy-six per cent of staff said that they had not participated in a training exercise for a similar incident.

Lack of training re-emerged just a few days after the riot, when a cottage was set ablaze, resulting in the loss of 28 beds for several weeks. One corrections officer described the intensity of the fire in this way:

… this fire was so hot that our boots were melting to the tiles and the steel handrails radiated a frightening amount of heat along their full length.

All four officers who engaged the fire had lapsed fire refresher training—another example of the minister putting corrections officers in harm’s way.

In the last month, two more incidents have eroded public confidence in the minister’s ability to do his job effectively—the mistaken release of one detainee, and the dangerous escape of another. On 20 July, Canberra residents learnt that a detainee had been mistakenly released before his release date. This detainee walked free and was at large for close to a week. The government called it human error. I reject that claim, and this is why: blaming “human error” scapegoats staff for the government’s own failings, and I will not stand for it. Our corrections staff put themselves in harm’s way on an hourly basis, every single day, and it is shameful for the government to hide behind them. Responsibility for this mistaken release lies solely with Minister Gentleman and his failure to provide corrections staff with appropriate tools.

The government noted that information on detainees is kept on an electronic database that requires manual checks across multiple files. What was not said was that this database’s software was developed in 1985 and was considered antiquated when the government bought it in 2004. This database and its recording methods have been criticised since at least 2011. The Auditor-General, in 2015, stated that they make it difficult for corrections staff to respond to a request for information on detainees and noted that:

ACTCS officers, particularly those that had recently worked in other jurisdictions, emphasised the laborious nature of collating data using ACTCS records systems, which are electronic and paper-based.

If the previous reviewers, the Auditor-General and the inspector all regard the government’s record-keeping system as unfit for purpose then I reject the government’s claim that human error caused the mistaken release of the detainee.

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