Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 5 August 2021) . . Page.. 2415 ..
(d) ensure that support services for staff are easily accessible and that staff are actively made aware of these supports.
I am pleased to bring this motion before the Assembly today. I do so at the urging of some who have worked their entire careers on the frontline of corrections. These people are dedicated, brave and incredibly local to their colleagues. They do what they do for the people of Canberra, they do it for our city’s most troubled and they do it for a government that frequently does not act like it respects the work they do. I speak, of course, of our often unsung corrections officers and the staff at the AMC.
A typical shift by a corrections officer, or CO, is 12 hours. For many Canberrans this would be an exceptionally long day. For most of us, our days do not look anything like theirs. Corrections officers must be alert and observant the entire time they are on shift. Every interaction with detainees, either unspoken or spoken, could be significant and must be remembered. Officers face potential threats from violent detainees and frequently find themselves threatened and in physical danger.
All this can result in constant and substantial mental and emotional strain. The constant tension of the work environment is punctuated by actual incidences of verbal and physical assault that can lead to long-term mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, long-term anxiety, depression and risk of suicide.
Corrections officers work in a very demanding, high-stress environment. They face situations that the majority of us could not. We salute and we respect them. This motion is designed to address the mental health risks associated with the realities of working in a correctional facility.
The essential but often overlooked work of corrections officers is reflected in the scant attention they have received in academic research. There have been comparatively few studies on the mental health of corrections officers, but the ones that do exist conducted in several nations all point toward a high level of formal mental illness among their ranks.
I will share some worrying statistics from these studies. In a 2007 Australian study, corrections officers reported higher rates of formal psychological stress claims than any other occupational group, including emergency services. International studies conducted between 2007 and 2019 confirmed the findings of this Australian research. Regardless of where they live, corrections officers experience higher than usual psychological distress. In one study, 55 per cent screened positive for mental disorder. To put this into perspective, the ABS recently reported that 25 per cent of Australians had a mental or behavioural condition.
Even more worrying are statistics of corrections officer suicide rates. In one overseas corrections organisation, the suicide rate was 105 in 100,000—seven times higher than the national suicide rate of that country. This data corresponds with findings in Australia that also show that corrections officers are at increased risk of suicide.
Bringing the focus back to Canberra, the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services conducted a survey of AMC staff in 2019. This survey asked several questions about