I have a huge, silly, automatic hire car, when I hired it I asked for something quite small but the man said where I was going was bush and I would need a big thing – seems the biggest worry is running over a Kangaroo, I saw a dead one as road kill and indeed, as I approached the prison I could see weird flashes of brown which I realised were jumping ‘roos. I am a long way from home.
I am always nervous starting at a new prison with a new group – its always an unknown – I was early and sat in the carpark looking at the prison. It is new and clean. I stride up to security – I have a bag full of contraband, cameras, recorders, laptops – but its all fine, they have a list, they are expecting me. My contact Mark Bartlett comes to meet me. Head of resettlement and rehabilitation programmes, he spends the whole day with me and shows me every corner of the prison. There is so much to say and to take in – on the whole – a similar feel to the best prisons I have worked in, ones in Norway, good clean private prisons in the UK – new and built fit for purpose. I have to agree with Michael Gove ( never thought I would) when he says that the Victorian Prisons should be torn down – rehabilitation needs to be DESIGNED IN to the very fabric of the building.
This is ACT’s (Australian Capitol Territory) only prison. The state is tiny. All the prisoners used to be farmed out to other neighbouring states. There the prisons are more what you would expect, big, violent and busy with 1000 inmates. When ACT decided to finally build its own prison it has attempted to achieve something quite special. It has been built on the ground of being a ‘human rights friendly’ facility.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre emphasises rehabilitation, compliance with human rights principles and adherance to the Healthy Prison Concept.
According to the website, a healthy prison is one in which everyone:
- is and feels safe
- is treated with respect and as a fellow human being
- is encouraged to improve him/herself and is given every opportunity to do so through the provision of purposeful activity
- is enabled to maintain contact with their families and is prepared for release.
In reality, somethings work and somethings don’t, like anywhere I suppose. On the whole there is a sense of calm in the prison that I have only encountered in the Norwegian system. Prisoners can wonder fairly freely around, the education, health and programmes blocks are all separate little units. There is an onsite TC (Therapeutic Community) for people committed to recovery. I am working within the education and art department, as I always do. The staff have been amazing and helpful and they are putting me to good work, a mens group, a womens group – and today I will be working in the indiginous art room. The prisoners are the same as prisoners anywhere. There are lots of drugs and lots of problems. The vision was a great one, the practicalities more challenging. Built for 300 they were peaking at 412 with another block for 150 opening soon. Popular place. There is good prison art going on, I was moved as I always am by the work – I am excited to get under the skin of the place over the next week. I want to leave you with this art work that moved me :
Moving Forward: The Kangaroo and Emu can’t walk backwards. Like hope, forgiveness, restoration and freedom its about going forward.