Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 5 August 2021) . . Page.. 2416 ..
employee wellbeing. Responses provide further evidence that this motion is needed: 82 per cent of correspondents stated that they would like increased access to staff stress management training; 77 per cent said they would like increased access to training for how to deal with PTSD or trauma; 62 per cent wished for confidential links to counsellors or therapists; 52 per cent wanted better online or digital resources related to health and wellbeing; and 31 per cent of respondents reported that they had accessed the employee assistance program, or EAP. This is a good program for corrections officers. However, the EAP is not as well placed as they would like.
Corrections officers at the AMC have expressed to me their desire to have onsite counselling that can be accessed shortly after a distressing incident, such as a shiv being drawn on them or receiving a death threat. These examples highlight the unique sort of danger present in this working environment. Research conducted in 2012 suggested that early intervention and counselling can significantly reduce the development of PTSD and depression symptoms. Individuals in the study who experienced physical trauma were given counselling within hours of the incident and showed significantly lower post-traumatic stress reactions than individuals who did not receive counselling.
Interestingly, these studies on the mental health of corrections officers distinguish between the causes of PTSD and depression. PTSD is most strongly associated with physical danger on the job. Depression and anxiety are most strongly associated with low levels of perceived support from the organisation and with low job satisfaction.
In the past nine months, there have been numerous examples of the serious physical danger faced by corrections officers in Canberra. The mental distress that this causes can be further exacerbated when corrections officers feel that they should be armed but not allowed to be.
A former corrections officer recently shared with me the fear he would experience while going about his daily routines. This officer was afraid to enter the cell of a dangerous detainee who has a history of possessing weapons while in prison. The former officer’s fear was amplified by the fact that he has not had adequate training and he is not allowed to be armed or even to wear body armour. This experience must have been terrifying and the pressure it puts on this person’s mental health is immense.
The motion further calls for a review on the policy that governs how staff in the court transfer unit are armed during escorts. Video of the recent incident where a detainee escaped custody shows how few options corrections officers have to restrain detainees and prevent escape. It should be emphasised that this dangerous escape occurred during broad daylight in a busy part of Canberra. It was near embassies, a playground and a school.
Arming these corrections officers on escort duty is not purely for their safety, but for the safety of Canberra community, for they take their job seriously and know the safety of Canberrans is on their shoulders as they try to keep a prisoner in their custody. And when a prisoner escapes I cannot imagine their mental wellbeing when this happens.