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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 21 September 1995) . . Page.. 1601 ..


One of the important provisions in this Bill concerns the detention of mentally ill prisoners. In April 1990 a tragic incident occurred when a mentally ill prisoner from the Territory committed suicide in Goulburn gaol shortly after his reception there to serve his sentence. It appeared that reports about his mental condition, which the court had directed should accompany him, had not been drawn to the attention of the prison medical service. Consequently, no special arrangements were made for his protection and care. As a result of this incident, revised arrangements concerning mentally ill prisoners were agreed in 1990 between ACT Corrective Services, New South Wales Corrective Services and the Australian Federal Police, who are responsible for the transport of ACT prisoners.

One of the changes which were agreed between the agencies was to allow mentally ill persons who had been sentenced to imprisonment to be held at the Belconnen Remand Centre pending arrangements for their transfer to New South Wales, including the collection of medical and psychiatric reports and the organisation of suitable accommodation. The Belconnen Remand Centre, with its purpose built cells for mentally ill people, is a more suitable facility than police holding cells, which is where convicted prisoners are currently held pending transfer. This Bill gives effect to the proposal agreed with New South Wales. Similarly, the Bill allows temporary detention at the Remand Centre of those persons who have been found unfit to plead to criminal charges because of mental illness, or who have been acquitted of an offence on the grounds of mental illness, pending their transfer to New South Wales.

Other amendments to the Remand Centres Act 1976 are included in this Bill. At times the transfer of prisoners to New South Wales may be delayed; for example, because police escorts are not available, because special arrangements need to be made at the receiving facility, or occasionally because there is no room available. Delays of up to one week have occurred. Since police cells are not designed for long-term custody, it is preferable for such prisoners to be held at the Remand Centre pending transfer. Prisoners who are serving a sentence in New South Wales or any other State may also be transferred back to the Territory to be tried for further offences. Since such trials may be lengthy, it is desirable to hold those prisoners in a purpose built facility rather than in police cells. As I mentioned, Mr Speaker, unauthorised immigrants may also be detained at the Remand Centre. However, the references to the relevant Commonwealth legislation are outdated and those references are updated in the Bill.

I believe that this Bill contains some significant amendments to extend the categories of persons who may be detained for short periods at an appropriate Territory facility rather than being transferred to the New South Wales prison system or being held in police cells. The proposals are consistent with the Territory accepting greater responsibility for the welfare of those persons convicted by our courts. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.


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