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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 5 August 2021) . . Page.. 2422 ..


MRS KIKKERT (Ginninderra) (4.39), in reply: I am heartened that this motion will be passed. While the prison has always been a workplace of higher stress than others, recent events have increased this level and made the need for increased mental health supports essential. During an information session for the recruitment of additional officers, the session conveners described for candidates the characteristics that ACT Corrective Services were looking for. They said they need hard workers with integrity and emphasised the importance of having a thick skin.

Having a thick skin does not necessarily mean that threatening words and physical altercations do not affect a person and just bounce right off, as the phrase may have one envision. It means that when these negative experiences happen, a person is able to react appropriately, process them in a healthy way and grow stronger and more resilient because of them. The session conveners further said that officers need to be people whom the detainees can look up to and see themselves in. If our officers are mentally healthy and positive, this is something that is incredibly important for the detainees to see.

As I referenced in my opening remarks, there is strong demand for personal mental health training among AMC staff. In past months the minister has begun recruiting additional corrections officers. These new and existing officers would be well served by having access to preventative mental health training to ensure they have positive mental health exercises to depend on when they are faced with distressing situations.

The motion also addresses the need to review the policy that governs escort procedures when transporting detainees to places outside the prison. As we saw from video footage of the escape of a detainee in early July, corrections officers have little in the way of protective equipment. A detailed look at the policy is needed. The incident has been referred to the Inspector of Correctional Services, and I eagerly await his expert recommendations.

More broadly, work as a corrections officer can be dangerous. As I have said earlier, a former corrections officer recently shared with me his experience at the AMC. He was afraid of entering a cell that may have contained dangerous weapons when he himself had no self-protective equipment, such as a stab-proof vest. His fear is warranted. An analysis of contraband found at the prison last year showed that many weapons and weapon-like instruments were confiscated. Thirty-one weapons, 21 razor blades and 32 syringes were found. These are just the ones that were found. We know that, despite the best efforts of our corrections officers, detainees can covertly create weapons, arm themselves and use them, as we saw in November last year when a detainee was stabbed with a shiv. It is a dangerous place, and I hope that the Greens are actually taking it seriously.

I feel optimistic that the exploration of innovative wellbeing and mental health supports at the prison, such as an on-site counsellor specialising in PTSD and trauma, will have long-lasting beneficial effects for the staff at the AMC. Over the long term, the ACT will reap the rewards that cascade from a more positive, confident and enthusiastic workforce.


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