Sunday, 2 March 2008 Print | Close
Inside Canberra's humane prison
ARCHITECT-DESIGNED self-contained cottages with roomy kitchens, lounge rooms complete with flat-screen LCD televisions and mountain views through floor to ceiling windows.
Welcome to the Alexander Maconochie Centre, the ACT's first prison, where the cost of a room is your liberty and more.
With an operating budget of $24.5 million, the ACT Government anticipates it will cost taxpayers $336 a day for each inmate at the $131 million prison, based on a population of 200 prisoners.
At its capacity of 300 inmates, which the ACT Opposition expects it will not reach in the foreseeable future, the cost would fall to $219.
This is slightly less than what the Government currently pays $239 a day to keep an ACT prisoner in a NSW prison.
ACT Corrections Minister Simon Corbell defended the facilities last week, saying they were vital to rehabilitating Canberra's prisoners and breaking the cycle of crime.
"Objectives with the prison was to make it human rights compliant and in terms of design that means ... an atmosphere which is healthy not just for prisoners and staff but for everyone who uses the facility," he said.
"It is about encouraging behaviours which will work in our favour when people are released back into the community, so if the environment can influence that, then that is a good thing."
The prison will also negate the cost of keeping inmates in remand at other centres in Canberra, which currently costs the Government $444 for each prisoner a day.
Opposition Leader Zed Seselja said he had "real concerns" why the prison had cost as much as it had, and was waiting to see a detailed budget of the running costs.
The prison, which has been billed "world first" in design and human rights principles, has a campus-like design including varying accommodation types.
Accommodation includes self-contained cottages and traditional cell blocks.
The cottages have been designed to promote "normal" living, with inmates responsible for their own cooking, cleaning and laundry.
Each has a spacious wood-look kitchen, lounge/dining area with television, individual bedrooms with shelving and a combined share laundry/bathroom.
Inmates can enter and leave the cottages by swipe-card security which can be disabled by prison staff when necessary, such as at night.
The cell blocks have tighter security and are divided into two, with "soft" and "hard" sides.
Subtle differences include carpet flooring instead of vinyl on the "soft" side and porcelain toilets rather than stainless steel.
Prisoners can work their way onto the "soft" side through good behaviour.
Cells have a double bunk, wooden shelving, small toilet/shower, built-in desk and chairs and a cork board on the wall with inmates having access to a caged exercise areas or a sports oval depending on privileges.
There are computer rooms, classrooms, a medical facility, trade rooms, a large commercial kitchen and laundry and a women's community centre.
There are also barbecue areas, paved courtyards, art rooms, basketball courts and a sports oval.
The prison has no razor wire, bars on windows or guard towers.
Instead, corrections officers are stationed in small office huts across the site and conduct regular patrols.
There is also a radio frequency identification network which logs the whereabouts of staff and inmates at all times with both wearing a tracking device.
Mr Corbell has hit out at claims the facility was "too nice", saying that a loss of freedom was a tough punishment.
"The punishment for serious crimes in our society is to be imprisoned, to lose your liberty and to be detained by the state and that is what the prison does," he said.
"You are detained, you lose your liberty, you lose basic things that we take for granted, when you can go out, what sort of clothes you can wear and what sort of food you eat.
"These are all things that are seriously restricted when you go into prison and that must never be forgotten, but that does not mean we can't provide an environment which encourages people to reflect on their behaviour, to pay the penalty society has imposed on them and to take advantage of that to improve themselves and become better people when they leave prison."
He said the prison, which is currently 85 per cent complete, would have a strong focus on rehabilitation programs and education and expected it to generate worldwide interest when it began operating.
"Clearly it is the first prison to be built according to human rights principles and that is leading edge and people from around Australia and overseas will come to see our prison and how it operates and how it influenced the design," he said.
The prison is expected to be complete and handed back to the ACT Government by Bovis Lend Lease about June, with prisoners to be repatriated from NSW from September.