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Life in Prison

Contributed by Lorana Bartels and Caroline Doyle .Current to February 2022.

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)

The Corrections Management (Remand Detainees) Policy 2019 outlines how remandees are to be subjected to fewer restrictions than sentenced detainees. 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.

The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services report on the care and management of remandees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre found that, contrary to the Corrections Management Act and international human rights law, remandees are not separated from convicted detainees.

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.

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service is the primary health care provider for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees. The criteria for accessing the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service are provided in the Corrections Management (Access to Health Care) Policy 2019.

In the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC, concerns were raised about delays in seeing primary health nurses, doctors and dentists. This delay was also noted by Justice Health staff and the Health Services Commissioner in the Healthy Prison Review.

Rehabilitation Services

The Correction Programs Unit facilitates programs at the AMC and the Community Corrections programs in the ACT. Additional programs are facilitated by internal and external service providers. The COVID-19 pandemic affected the availability of training options and implementation of new initiatives. New short programs and self-paced booklet options were developed in response to these challenges.

To commence any program, participants must have sufficient time on their order or sentence to successfully complete all sessions. Group program participant numbers range from four to eighteen, depending on resources, need, detainee (AMC) numbers and offender (community) members. Some programs are ongoing, with rolling entry, while others are scheduled on a non-ongoing basis, dependent upon identified areas of detainee need and staffing availability.

Offence-specific (criminogenic) programs target the range of factors that influence an individual’s criminal behaviour. They are only available to sentenced detainees and participants are individually assessed for eligibility by ACTCS staff.

Sex Offender Program Suite

This is a mix of closed-entry and rolling group modules. These programs focus specifically on sexual offenders and aim to help participants gain an understanding of their offending and required future behaviours.

Sex Offenders with a Learning or Intellectual Disability (SOLID)

rolling entry group-based therapeutic intervention for adult men convicted of sexual offences who have learning or intellectual disabilities and people with identified mental health disorders who are not suitable for the Sex Offender Program Suite.

Sex Offender Individual Counselling

Individual counselling is available for sex offenders who have been assessed as not suitable for the sex offender program in the community. This program is only delivered at Community Corrections.

STATIC-99 Risk Assessment

All offenders/detainees convicted of sexual offence(s) under supervision, sentence or during the preparation of a pre-sentence report or pre-release report are required to have a current STATIC-99R score.

Cognitive Self-change Program

A rolling entry cognitive behaviour therapy based program. The program teaches offenders how to change, by identifying risky thinking and replacing this with new thinking and developing accountability for choices.

Domestic Abuse Program

A closed-entry program that draws on a gendered understanding of violence and abuse within relationships and addresses these issues from the perspective of power and control.

Violence Intervention Program

A closed-entry program for detainees with an established history of violence. The program aims to reduce the detainee’s risk of repeat violence, by increasing their self-awareness, self-management, conflict resolution skills and better regulate affective responses and behavioural outcomes.

Offence-related programs offer support for remand and sentenced detainees who use Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD).

Program Liaison Specialist Officer

This offers community-based offenders with complex needs who require additional support specialised, individual assistance to engage with ACTCS and address outstanding identified treatment needs. It is available only at Community Corrections.

Harm Minimisation

Facilitated by Directions ACT, this is a closed-entry information education session to discuss ways to minimise harms associated with AOD use.

Alcohol and Drug Awareness and Harm Prevention Training (ADAPT)

A closed-entry psychoeducational group that promotes AOD awareness. Completion of this program is compulsory for detainees wishing to access Directions ACT support upon release.

First Steps Alcohol and Drug Program

A closed-entry drug educational program for detainees with offending behaviour relating to substance abuse.

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Program

A closed-entry psychoeducational program which assists participants with problematic behaviours, such as addictions to drugs, gambling and alcohol and other areas.

Solaris Therapeutic Community (TC)

Co-facilitated with Karralika Programs, this is a closed-entry residential program for male detainees who have AOD dependency issues.

Anger Management Program

A closed-entry cognitive behaviour program targeting the emotional and physiological components of anger and conflict resolution skills.

Stress Less Program

A closed-entry cognitive behaviour therapy psychoeducational programs, focussed on managing and reducing depression, anxiety and stress.

Wellbeing programs offer remand (unsentenced) and sentenced detainees the opportunity to attend mental health and personal development programs.

Circles of Security

Co-facilitated with child, youth and families workers from the Community Services Directorate, this closed-entry program is designed for men and women with active parenting roles and focuses on improving the developmental pathways of children and their parents.

Seasons for Growth

Facilitated by the AMC Chaplaincy Services, this is a psychoeducational program for people who have experienced significant change or loss. It examines the impact of these significant changes and explores how people can learn to live with and grow from these experiences.

Out of the Dark

A closed-entry program for women who have experienced domestic and family violence as victims. It assists participants to identify issues around domestic and family violence, as well as the options and support available.

Real Understanding of Self-Help (RUSH) Program

A closed-entry program to assist individuals who are vulnerable to suicidal and self-harming behaviour.

Despite this suite of programs, the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC found there were challenges with accessing programs, programs were not consistently run, there were not enough facilitators, and there were clashes between education, rehabilitation programs and work times. Concerns were also raised from detainees that programs did not meet their needs, they did not help them with preparing for release, they did not help in addressing their offending behaviour and they were unaware of the range of programs.

The ACT Ombudsman’s review of parole processes at the AMC and investigation into the administration of parole by ACT Corrective Services found that many detainees were unable to complete programs, due to administrative circumstances beyond their control, which therefore had an impact on their ability to apply for parole.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Specific Programs and Services

As outlined in the 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Statement, ACTCS is committed to addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT justice system.

The programs and services specifically designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees are:

Elders Visitation Program

Ngunnawal Elders and other respected local community leaders from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia make formal monthly visits. The leaders provide cultural advice and support to detainees and staff.

Elders Healing Program

Local Elders who have experience and qualifications in social work and/or psychology suggest strategies for detainees who have demonstrated social/emotional distress whilst incarcerated.

Elders Yarning Circle Program (Men)

On a weekly basis, selected Indigenous male community leaders lead a culturally safe group discussion on problems Indigenous men have inside and outside the AMC. Strategies are presented to deal with these problems. Contemporary community issues can also be discussed.

Elders Yarning Circle Program (Women)

On a weekly basis, selected Indigenous female community leaders lead a culturally safe group discussion on problems Indigenous women have inside and outside the AMC. Strategies are presented to deal with these problems.

Elders Indigenous Art Program (Men)

Delivered by the CIT Yurauna Centre on weekly basis, this program teaches Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men about traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art. Participants can attain a Certificate II in Cultural Art and sell their artwork through the ACTCS Indigenous Detainee Art Catalogue or gift to family and friends.

Elders Indigenous Art Program (Women)

Delivered on a weekly basis by a local Aboriginal female artist, this program aims to support the healing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women through creative practice. Participants explore art and culture through facilitated activities.

Elders Music Expression Program (Men & Women)

Delivered on a weekly basis by a Community Elder, this program is aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women interested in learning about culture through traditional and contemporary Indigenous dance routines. Participants learn about the importance dance plays in ceremony. There is the possibility of performing dances at future events at the AMC.

Indigenous Chaplaincy Service (Men)

This is facilitated on a tri-weekly basis by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander chaplain.

CALM Program (Men)

This is facilitated by AMC Education and is focused on cultural studies and land management.

Indigenous Women’s Leadership & Wellbeing Program

Facilitated by Clybucca Dreaming on a weekly basis, this program provides leadership training to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and aims to empower them to take back control of their lives and take on a leadership role in the lives of their family and community. It covers pre-release planning, post-release support navigation and ongoing support from Clybucca Dreaming.


This is an annual day of family activities to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

“TOTEMS” Virtual Art Exhibition (Belconnen Arts)

This is a yearly exhibition of detainee artworks created though the Elders Indigenous Art Program.

NAIDOC Community Virtual Art Exhibition 2020

This is a yearly exhibition of detainee artwork created through the Elders Indigenous Art Program.

There is also an AMC Indigenous Services Unit (ISU) comprised of a Coordinator, an Indigenous Liaison Officer and an Indigenous Services Officer.

Transitional Release Centre

The Transitional Release Centre (TRC) has 20 beds, is located outside the AMC’s secure perimeter and accommodates men only. As per the Corrections Management (Transitional Release Program) Policy 2020, male detainees who have been approved to participate in the Transitional Release Program (TRP) can access activities in the community, such as training and work opportunities, and can also leave for family time. Whilst participating in the TRP, they can be placed in the TRC. Women can participate in the TRP, but cannot be placed in the TRC.

Recent criticisms of the TRC have included that women are excluded from participating, there is a lack of clear policies outlining eligibility access, the strict eligibility criteria and that it is under underutilised. For example, during 2019-20, only nine detainees were housed in the TRC. Detainees currently incarcerated at the AMC have given evidence to a parliament inquiry about their lack of access to the TRC and how it is nearly impossible to gain approval to enter the program.

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).


All detainees receive a literacy, numeracy, and educational needs assessment during induction, to inform suitable education programs. The Commissioner authorises accredited organisations to deliver educational programs to detainees. Engagement in education may be linked to a detainee’s Sentence Management Plan. Detainees who wish to engage in, or continue, vocational or tertiary enrolment must undertake study in their own time and at their own cost.

Some detainees are also eligible for the Transitional Release Program (see further above) to access education and vocation opportunities.

The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC found completion rates are also low, due to the high turnover of detainees, unscheduled lockouts and difficulties in attending class on time. Education and training programs in the AMC were previously delivered by Forsite Training & Licensing, but there are reports there has not been an education provider in the prison since October 2021.

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 (Detainee Access to Education, Library and Information Communication Technology) Policy 2019 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 Vocational Education and Training (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 Work) Policy 2019 outlines the employment policy at the AMC. Some detainees are also eligible for the Transitional Release Program (see above) to access employment opportunities in the community.

As of November 2021, there was one person employed by Justice and Community Safety to support detainees with finding employment post-release.

The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC found that a significant proportion of detainees were concerned about the lack of training opportunities in the AMC, including that courses are not relevant to employment needs and courses that are available do not provide recognised qualifications that could assist in finding employment post-release. Many detainees reported on a strong desire to engage in more meaningful work whilst in the prison.

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, as outlined in the Corrections Management (Detainee Communications) Policy 2020 (No 2). Indicator 99.4 of the ACT Standards for Adult Correctional Services suggests that telephone rates should not be prohibitively expensive, and that discounted rates should be offered when a detainee cannot afford phone calls.

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.

The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services report on the care and management of remandees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre and the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC noted there are insufficient telephones in the prison and the high cost of telephone calls. For example, as of 2021, phone rates are $5 for a ten-minute call to a mobile phone on a weekday.


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.

As outlined in the Corrections Management (Detainee Communications) Policy 2020 (No 2) 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 (Detainee Access to Education, Library and Information Communication Technology) Policy 2019 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 (Detainee Communications) Policy 2020 No 2 outlines the policy for detainee access to email.

Reception and Management of Non-English Speaking Detainees

Wherever possible, detainees whose primary language is not English 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 and the Corrections Management (Interpreter Service) Operating Procedure 2020.

Visits from Friends and Family

Information on visiting detainees 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. The use of audio-video measures for visits is set out in the Corrections Management (Use of Audio-Visual Equipment for Visits) Procedure 2020.

Due to COVID-19, in 2020, face-to-face visits were suspended and video visits via Zoom were introduced. Face-to-face visits resumed in December 2020, under new arrangements to meet social distancing requirements. In 2021, face-to-face visits were again suspended due to COVID-19. Zoom video visits were suspended for a brief period in October 2021, due to a staff member testing positive to COVID-19. Social Zoom visits were able to recommence on 13 October 2021. Limited face-to-face social visits recommenced Monday 6 December 2021.

Issues concerning visits were raised in the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC. For example, many detainees felt the visits area was not well set up for family visits and that there were insufficient visiting sessions. As of February 2022, the public transport timetable does not align with the requirement for visitors to arrive 30 minutes prior to their visit, due to COVID-19 requirements.

Female Detainees

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

In 2017, the women were moved from their purpose-built accommodation, due to overcrowding in the prison, to a high-security wing of the prison, which lacked privacy and appropriate separation from the men. In mid-2021, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate launched the Women’s Offender Framework and the women were moved back to their purpose built accommodation.

The issues the women face in the prison have been raised in the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services Healthy Prison Review of the AMC, the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services report on the care and management of remandees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, Women’s Health Matters, the media and public forums. Some of these issues include the lack of access to the TRC, limited access to the TRP, the high number of strip searches on Indigenous women, a lack of structured activities and meaningful work, limited access to the education centre and the library and the limited number and variety of programs.

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 2022 and the Corrections Management (Strip Search) Operating Procedure 2022 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: attending a health or rehabilitation service, taking part in work or work-related activities and/or for compassionate reasons. The leave period cannot be longer than seven days. Detainees with an approved Release Plan may access transitional release for community reintegration; family ties; education, vocation and work in the community. The Corrections Management (Transitional Release Program) Policy 2020 outlines the application process for transitional release.

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