Prison and Community Corrections


The ACT opened its first prison – the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) - in 2009. Before that, all people sentenced in the ACT to a prison sentence were kept in prisons in NSW. As the only prison in the ACT, the AMC houses male and female detainees (the ACT term for prisoners) at all classification levels (minimum, medium, maximum). It also houses both unsentenced (remand) and sentenced detainees.

The AMC is the first (and only) prison in Australia designed and built to operate as a ‘human rights’ prison.

According to ACT Corrective Services (which runs the AMC), accommodation at the AMC includes cell-blocks, domestic style cottages, a medical centre and special areas for detainees in crisis or transitioning to the community. The AMC is designed in an open campus style design, with accommodation units around a central facilities area. This includes a health building, as well as areas for admissions, education and programs and visits.

Many detainees live in cottages. These are designed to enable detainees to develop and practise living skills.

The AMC has seen a significant rise in numbers since it opened in 2009. By December 2017, there were over 468 detainees (compared with 256 five years earlier). Of these, approximately 21% were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, 8% were female and 36% were unsentenced. The specific issues relating to each of these categories of detainees are discussed further below.

Relevant Legislative and Policy Frameworks

There are many laws, policies and procedures which govern the life of detainees in the AMC. These policies and procedures deal with issues such as access to health care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees, smoking in prisons, infectious diseases, the spirit in which correctional programs should be administered, and the management and security of detainees. Some of the policies are restricted (not available for the public to see). The most important piece of legislation that governs the treatment of detainees in the ACT is the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT). Other important legislation includes: As set out above, the AMC is the only ‘human rights’ prison in Australia. This is in part because the ACT is one of only two states or territories in Australia with a human rights framework (the other is Victoria). The Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) incorporates the rights in the international United Nations document the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The most relevant provisions in the ICCPR for prisoners are the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7) and the statement that ‘[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person’ (Article 10(1)). Article 10(3) states that reformation and social rehabilitation is the essential aim of the treatment of prisoners in the penitentiary system.

The provisions in the Human Rights Act (based on the ICCPR) that are relevant to detainees are section 10, which puts Article 7 of the ICCPR into effect and section 22, which gives effect to Article 10(1). The Human Rights Act also imposes duties on public authorities, including the AMC. This means it is illegal to act in a way that is inconsistent with the human rights prescribed in the HRA and the AMC is required to consider these rights when making decisions (ss 40, 40B of the Human Rights Act). The Human Rights Act also gives people the right to bring legal action in relation to alleged breaches of duty by public authorities to comply with the provisions of the Human Rights Act (ie, if a corrections officer does not follow rules on human rights (ss 40B, 40C), although the law also states that all of the human rights provided for in the Human Rights Act may be subject to reasonable limits set by Territory laws (s 28).

The other provisions of the Human Rights Act that are mainly relevant to detainees relate to:
  • recognition and equality before the law (s 8)
  • protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (s 10)
  • protection of liberty and security of person (s 18)
  • humane treatment when deprived of liberty (s 19)
  • the various rights relating to a fair trial (s 21), criminal proceedings (s 22), compensation for wrongful conviction (s 23) and the right not to be tried or punished more than once (s 24).
  • freedom of movement (s 13), association (s 15), and expression (s 16).
The day-to-day management of the AMC is governed by the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT), which covers the following issues:
  • objects and principles
  • administration issues
  • detention in police and court cells
  • escorting detainees
  • living conditions at correctional centres
  • inspection of correctional centres
  • admission to correctional centres
  • management and security, including segregation, searches and seizing property
  • discipline
  • leave for full-time detainees
Functions under the Corrections Management Act (that is, operating the AMC) must be exercised in accordance with a list of ‘rights’ in section 9, namely:
  • respecting and protecting the detainee’s human rights
  • ensuring the detainee’s decent, humane and just treatment
  • preventing torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • ensuring the detainee is not subject to further punishment (in addition to the deprivation of liberty) only because of the conditions of detention
  • ensuring the detainee’s conditions in detention comply with section 12
  • if the detainee is an offender, promoting, as far as practicable, their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
In addition, the principle that custodial sentences are imposed as punishment – and not for further punishment – is explicitly reflected in the CMA as a general principle (see Preamble [2]). In relation to the segregation of prisoners specifically, section 89 provides: ‘To remove any doubt, segregation under this part must not be used for punishment or disciplinary purposes.’

Section 12 of the Corrections Management Act, which is referred to in s 9(e) above, provides 11 minimum living conditions ‘to protect the human rights of detainees at correctional centres’. The minimum living conditions in section 12 mirror the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia, although neither of these are legally enforceable. These conditions include:
  • access to sufficient food and drink
  • access to suitable clothing and facilities for personal hygiene
  • suitable accommodation and bedding
  • reasonable access to open air and exercise
  • reasonable access to telephone, mail and other forms of communication
  • reasonable access to visits and
  • reasonable access to health services.
Chapter 6 of the Corrections Management Act explains these minimum living conditions in more detail and covers the matters contained in section 12, as well as issues such as:
  • the treatment of convicted and non-convicted detainees (s 44)
  • transfers to health facilities (s 54) and
  • religious, spiritual and cultural needs (s 55).

Inquiries into the AMC

There have been several recent inquiries into the operation of the AMC:

Types of Detainees

There are two types of detainees held in the AMC.
  • Sentenced detainees are those who have been sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment in a correctional centre by a judge, magistrate or the Sentence Administration Board if they have breached a Parole Order or Intensive Corrections Order (see Sentencing section).
  • Unsentenced (remand) detainees are in the AMC waiting for their matter to be resolved in court (either to enter a plea before a court, for a court to decide if they are guilty or not guilty, or for the court to decide their sentence).

Unsentenced detainees (remandees)

Section 10 of the Corrections Management Act provides that unsentenced detainees must be presumed innocent of any offence for which they are remanded (ie, placed in prison) and their detention is not imposed as punishment. However, this does not apply if they have been found guilty of the offence (for example, where they are waiting for their sentence hearing) or if they are also in prison serving a sentence for another offence. In many prisons, unsentenced and sentenced detainees are housed separately, but they are often housed together in the AMC. An independent report in 2016 into the death of an Aboriginal detainee concluded that the AMC should separate unsentenced and sentenced detainees, by establishing at the AMC a separate remand facility and thereby achieve greater human rights compliance. In its response to this report, the Government agreed in principle ‘where practicable and in the best interests of individuals, remanded detainees be segregated from sentenced detainees within the AMC’. In many prisons, therapeutic programs like the ones described below are not available to remandees, but remandees can complete some programs at the AMC.

Commonwealth detainees

A small number of detainees (sentenced or unsentenced) have committed federal offences (that is, offences against Commonwealth laws, such as cybercrime offences), but most have committed offences against ACT laws.

Health Services

Justice Health Services provides physical and mental health care to people in correctional facilities in the ACT.

The physical health services are a community-equivalent primary health service; while the mental health services provide a specialised mental health service that aims to reduce the risk of re-offending and violence in people with moderate to severe mental illness that cannot be appropriately managed by mainstream mental health services, due to an ongoing high level of risk to others.

Primary Health Services provides general physical health management, including assessment, treatment and referral services to detainees and young people located at AMC, Bimberi Youth Justice Centre (BYJC) and Dhulwa. The services provided by the primary health team include:
  • health induction assessments for all people who enter custody
  • chronic disease (including blood-borne virus) screening and treatment
  • dental care
  • hearing testing
  • vision testing and provision of prescription spectacles
  • mental health, including assessment and treatment of people experiencing mild to moderate mental illness and the stabilisation of mental health issues
  • opioid replacement therapy
  • pain clinic
  • pharmacy
  • response to medical emergencies
Forensic Mental Health Services (FMHS) is a specialist service based in the court, custodial, youth detention and community settings. The Forensic Mental Health Service provides assessment and intervention for people with a mental illness who have or are at risk of offending. Forensic Services includes the Forensic Community Outreach Service, Court Assessment and Liaison Service and mental health services at the AMC and the BYJC. Specific interventions provided by the FMHS include:
  • clinical and psychiatric assessment and treatment
  • psychological and psychosocial intervention
  • occupational therapy assessment and intervention
  • suicide risk assessment and management
  • group therapies
The Hume Health Centre at the AMC also provides sexual health services. Treatment of sexually transmitted infections is coordinated through the Canberra Sexual Health Service.

Rehabilitation Services

There are a range of rehabilitation services provided to detainees in the AMC. These services include reducing offending behaviour and encouraging detainees to seek self-improvement, fulfil their potential and lead successful lives in the community.

There are a range of criminogenic and offence-specific programs in the AMC, such as:
  • Adult Sex Offender Program
  • Solaris Therapeutic Community
  • Being a Man and a Dad
  • Cognitive Self-Change Program
  • Domestic Abuse Program
  • Exploring Change
  • Family Violence Self-Change Program Domestic Abuse Program
  • First Steps …to Recovery
  • First Steps Alcohol and Drug Course
  • First Steps to Anger Management … Managing Emotions
  • Getting Me Back
  • Harm Minimisation
  • Indigenous Cognitive Program
  • Individual AOD counselling through Directions ACT, ACT Health Alcohol and Drug Service
  • Out of the Dark
  • Real Understanding of Self-Help (RUSH) Program
  • Schema Group Therapy
  • Seasons for Growth
  • Self-care for Women
  • Self-management and Recovery Training
  • Sober Driver Program
  • Violence Intervention Program

Adult Sex Offender Program

This is a rolling and open-ended therapeutic group-based intervention program for men that addresses each participant’s individual treatment targets. Participants can join the program at any time during the year. Most participants take around two years to complete the group program, however this may take longer for higher-risk participants.

Female sex offenders are referred to one-on-one therapy from external providers.

Cognitive Self-Change Program

This program is delivered in a rolling and open group format, with new participants joining the program at any stage of their detention and exiting the program once they have completed each step. The program is based on cognitive behaviour therapy principles; it teaches participants a set of cognitive-based skills designed to increase awareness of thinking, recognition of risky thoughts and thinking patterns, and encourage new ways of thinking that will lead the offender away from harmful, unlawful behaviour.

Domestic Abuse Program (DAP)

This is a 40-hour program for men who are convicted of a domestic abuse offence against their female partner or spouse. Men who do not have a current conviction for a domestic abuse offence but have previous relevant offences and are willing to acknowledge they have engaged in abusive behaviour may also be eligible for the program, depending on their risk level and motivation to participate.

In the community, before being accepted into the DAP, offenders must consent to their current female partner, whether or not victim of the offence, being contacted for the purpose of completing a referral to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service. This measure is designed to enhance the safety of women and their children while the perpetrator undertakes the DAP during subsequent case management.

This program is an integral part of the ACT’s overarching Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP), which involves multiple agencies working together to address family violence.

First Steps Alcohol and Drug Course

This program consists of six discrete modules and is delivered in a closed group format over a six-week period. The content is based on motivational and readiness issues and is appropriate for unsentenced (remand) detainees or those with short custodial sentences.

First Steps to Anger Management Program

This is a short program, suitable for those with short periods in custody. It is delivered in a closed group format over a period of up to three months. The program explores the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy, applying them to the management of frustration and anger. It provides offenders with positive and practical ways to overcome negative emotions and self-defeating behaviour, which often leads to offending behaviour.

Solaris Therapeutic Community

The Solaris Therapeutic Community is a voluntary program for adult males who have alcohol and other drug dependency issues, using a therapeutic community approach to treatment and ongoing recovery. It provides a structured environment where the participants in the community itself are used as the main tool to bring about personal change. Participants are provided with individual support interviews and educational and therapeutic sessions.

ACT Corrective Services work in partnership with Karralika Programs to develop and implement the Therapeutic Community in the AMC (TC). The TC, through self-help and mutual support, seeks to promote healing and personal change. Participants in the TC enter the program during the last six months of their custodial sentence.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Specific Programs and Services

These programs and services are specifically designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees:
  • Culture and Land Management Program
  • Indigenous Traditional Culture Healing Yarning (ITCHY) Arts Program
  • Winnunga Social Well-being Program
  • Elders and Community Leaders Visitation Program
  • Indigenous Pastoral Care
  • Indigenous Counselling
  • NAIDOC AMC Family Day
  • NAIDOC Community Art Exhibition
  • Yeddung Mura (Good Pathways) Aboriginal Corporation
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients exiting custody are supported by the Aboriginal Legal Service as part of the Extended Throughcare Program.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients on probation or community supervision are assisted by the Aboriginal Client Services Officer.

There is a community-based reporting centre at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service. This allows clients who are attending Winnunga for their health needs to report for supervision at the same time with the aim of reducing supervision condition breaches.

Syringes and Needles

A syringe and needle model has been proposed for the AMC, following widespread cases of hepatitis C. The proposal included a supervised injecting room for illicit drugs and health staff available to provide medical assistance. The model was voted down in the ballot in September 2016. This issue may be revisited, following recommendations in a report by the ACT Health Services Commissioner in March 2018 (see the ACT Health Services Commissioner’s review of the opioid replacement treatment program at the AMC at

ACT Corrective Services, in conjunction with ACT Health and a number of community organisations, makes a broad range of programs available to detainees aimed at reducing illicit drug consumption. Examples of harm minimisation activities include making bleach and prophylactics readily available to detainees.


Vocational Education and Training (VET) is offered to detainees at the AMC, by the Registered Training Provider Campbell Page Education and Training (CPET). CPET assesses the individual learning needs of detainees on admission to the AMC and, in consultation with them, develops individual learning plans. These plans aim to integrate VET with employment opportunities at the prison and assist detainees to develop practical marketable skills to improve their chances of securing and keeping employment in the community after release.

Detainees can access online education resources through the Legal Education and Resource Network (LEARN), which provides online educational material and can provide limited email and internet access. The Corrections Management (Email, Internet and Legal Education and Resource Network [LEARN] for Detainees) Policy 2010 No 2 outlines the policy for detainee access to LEARN.


Detainees cannot be obliged to work, but opportunities for employment can be reflected in an individual’s rehabilitation plan. Where practical, work is linked to relevant VET qualifications. These can include a hospitality course for detainees employed in the bakery, kitchen, laundry and/or cleaning services, recycling bay, horticulture for those working in the grounds, clerical positions, and a barista course for those employed in the Visitor Centre coffee shop. The Corrections Management (Detainee Employment) Policy 2009 outlines the employment policy at the AMC.

Some detainees are eligible for the Work Release Program, which gives them the opportunity to engage in paid employment in the community before being discharged from custody. The purpose of this program is to enhance post-release employment prospects, assist detainees in achieving a successful transition from custody to community living, enable them to acquire to enhance vocational skills, and give them the opportunity to earn funds whilst in custody. The eligibility and guidelines for the program are found in the Corrections Management (Work Release) Policy 2012.

In 2015, the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety released a report on its inquiry into sentencing in the ACT. The committee emphasised the importance of employment forming a key part of a structured day and the rehabilitation of detainees. The prison has since developed a bakery, multi-purpose gym and laundromat program to give more purposeful activity to the detainees.

Personal Property

The Corrections Management (Detainee Property) Policy 2009 outlines the items that may be bought and/or kept by detainees. Section 71 of the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT) states that the Director-General (who has overall responsibility for management of the AMC) may give directions imposing conditions in relation to the nature, amount and location of the property and the use of the property.


Using Telephones

Section 47 of the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT) states that the director-general must ensure that the AMC has telephone facilities for detainees to make and receive telephone calls. Detainees can make at least one telephone call on admission to the AMC and one telephone call each week to a family member. Detainees may also make and receive further telephone calls for necessary contact with a family member, friend or someone else.

The Corrections Management Act (2007) lists mobile phones as prohibited items in the AMC. Possession of a mobile telephone may result in a maximum penalty of 50 penalty units, six months imprisonment or both.


Section 48 of the Corrections Management Act (2007) states that the director-general must ensure, as far as practicable, that detainees can send and receive as much mail as they wish. However, a detainee may only send mail to, and receive mail from, if the person is nominated by the detainee by written notice given to the director-general. A detainee sending mail must pay for the cost of any writing and other material and postage, if the director-general believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is appropriate.

There are rules governing the opening, reading and searching of a detainee’s mail by staff at the AMC. Part 9.3 of the Corrections Management Act (2007) explains these rules for ordinary mail and protected mail.


Section 52 of the Corrections Management Act (2007) states that the director-general must ensure, as far as practicable, that detainees have reasonable access to newspapers, radio and television broadcasts and other mass media (including the internet) for news and information. Detainees may be granted limited supervised access to specific websites on the Internet, which must be for reintegration needs or education needs. The Corrections Management (Email, Internet and Legal Education and Resource Network [LEARN] for Detainees) Policy 2010 No 2 outlines the policy for detainee access to the Internet.


Authorised detainees may have reasonable access to email at designated computers and may be granted up to five approved addresses. Detainees must have their list of email addresses approved by the Intelligence Officer, prior to sending any emails. All emails sent from detainees will be identified as having come from the AMC, as the email address will include Detainees are not permitted to email one another, except at the General Manager’s discretion. All incoming and outgoing emails, other than those deemed privileged, may be vetted by AMC staff. Email cannot be used to contact the media or any media representatives. The Corrections Management (Email, Internet and Legal Education and Resource Network [LEARN] for Detainees) Policy 2010 No 2 outlines the policy for detainee access to email.

Reception and Management of Non-English Speaking Detainees

Wherever possible, detainees for whom English is not their primary language will be provided with information relevant to their imprisonment, in a language they understand. Accredited interpreting and translating services, are used for all formal communication with detainees. Admission Officers record whether a detainee identifies as a national of another country. As part of the induction process detainees will be advised that they make contact with the diplomatic or consular representative of their relevant embassy. Further information is available under the Corrections Management (Reception and Management of Non-English Speaking Detainees) Policy 2014 No 1.

Visits from Friends and Family

Information on visiting detainees, including an updated timetable, is provided on the ACT Corrective Services website. The Corrections Management (Visits) Policy 2016 (No 2) outlines a detainee’s entitlement to personal and professional visits.

Female Detainees

The AMC accommodates both male and female detainees. Female detainees are accommodated separately from male detainees at all times. Programs and employment are provided to address the specific needs of female detainees. The Corrections Management (Reception and Management of Female Detainees) Policy 2014 outlines the policy for reception and management of female detainees at the AMC. The Corrections Management (Women and Children Program) Policy 2015 outlines the opportunities provided for women coming into custody who are carers for young children.

Specialist Health Care

All female detainees have access to the same level of programs, education, recreation, medical, and mental health services as male detainees. Females can have access to specialist health care services.

Being Searched

The Corrections Management (Searching) Policy 2010 and the Corrections Management (Searching) Policy 2008 outline the detainee searching policy and procedures at the AMC.

Room Searches

Division 9.4.5 of the Corrections Management Act 2007 outlines the rules governing the searching of a detainee’s room.

Body Searches

Division 9.4.3 of the Corrections Management Act 2007 outlines the rules and guidelines concerning the body search of a detainee.

Getting Leave from Prison

Chapter 12 of the Corrections Management Act 2007 (ACT) outlines the rules and guidelines for a detainee to obtain leave from the AMC. The director-general may give a full-time detainee permission to be absent from the AMC for any purpose the director-general considers appropriate. Examples of this include: to attend a health or rehabilitation service, to take part in work or work-related activities and/or for compassionate reasons. The leave period cannot be longer than seven days. The Corrections Management (Detainee Leave) Policy 2010 outlines the detainee leave policy.

Making a Complaint

Information on making a complaint is provided on the ACTCS website. Individuals are encouraged to first attempt to resolve the complaint verbally (informal complaint) before making a written complaint (formal complaint).

ACT Ombudsman

The Australian Capital Territory Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions of Australian Capital Territory Government agencies.

ACT Human Rights Commission

The ACT Human Rights Commission was established in 2005 to promote and protect the rights and wellbeing of all people living in the Australian Capital Territory. The Commission is an independent statutory agency established by the Human Rights Commission Act 2005.

Official Visitor

Official Visitors are appointed by the Minister in accordance with section 57 of the Corrections Management Act 2007. The role of the Official Visitor is to receive and investigate detainee complaints and grievances, and inspect correctional centres and places outside correctional centres where detainees are, or have been directed to work or participate in an activity. The Official Visitor Act 2012 outlines the appointment of official visitors and the Corrections Management (Official Visitor) Policy 2011 outlines the role and functions of official visitors.

Indigenous Official Visitor

Indigenous Official Visitors are appointed by the Minister. The role of the Indigenous Official Visitor is to receive and investigate complaints and grievances from Indigenous detainees, and inspect correctional centres and places outside correctional centres where Indigenous detainees are, or have been directed to work or participate in an activity.

Offences Committed in Prison

Detainees are entitled to the protection of the law just like everybody else. If a detainee believes that an offence has been committed against them, they should report this to correctional staff, who should contact ACT Policing.

A recent report on the death of an inmate at the AMC (who has been subject to previous alleged assaults) recommended that ACT Policing
  • give higher priority to investigating any assault at the AMC
  • work with ACT Corrective Services and the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions to develop and adopt pro-charge and pro-prosecution policies in relation to assaults at the AMC
In its full response to the report, the ACT Government recognised the importance of ensuring that allegations and incidents of assault within the AMC are fully recorded and investigated.

The ACT Chief Police Officer confirmed that ACT Policing will investigate all serious assaults at the AMC. This means any assault resulting in physical injuries which require medical treatment involving overnight hospitalisation in a medical facility (for example, a prison clinic, infirmary, hospital or a public hospital) or on-going medical treatment related to injuries sustained during the assault. Serious assaults include all sexual assaults.

The contact details for detainees who have been subject to offences in the AMC are:

This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding AustLII Communities? Send feedback
This website is using cookies. More info. That's Fine