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Corrections Amendment Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 11 May 2023

Tags: Corrections, Prisons, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this bill which is a very important tidy up because it seeks to fix an unintended consequence that is clearly not in the best interests of the state and would not have been the intention of the court on sentencing at all.

It is interesting that this has persisted for such a long time. It was confusing. I thank the staff who gave me the briefing. This is a very confusing time frame and I thank the staff for providing a little ready reckoner of how it works.

It is really about dealing with sentences that applied consecutively and non-parole periods that are applied consecutively and where a person is released from incarceration at the end of two, for example, but it could be more, consecutive non-parole periods, which have finished their time. Then the person goes on to reoffend in a period of time where, by the time it goes to trial and sentence is given, and a next sentence and non-parole period is determined, that goes on to what was already there in the first place. There is the possibly, and in fact it has happened, where a person is given a further sentence and a further non-parole period attached to that sentence, which, when it is put on what was there in the first place, means that they would have served their sentence and non-parole period before they committed the crime for which they were convicted in that subsequent court case.

It is very complicated and it has been described very thoroughly by the minister. I will not go into that any longer except to say it is my understanding that all the stakeholders who were consulted were all comfortable with this change. They were a very extensive list: the Law Society, the CLCs, the Chief Justice and Chief Magistrate and DPP, Legal Aid, the Parole Board, Victim Support Services, the Prison Legal Services, the Courts Administrator, the Chief Registrar, the Bar Association and maybe even more I cannot remember. That is more than good enough for me.

I take the opportunity to make some other points about where we are with people who are serving a sentence and who are in their non-parole period. At the moment, that is a very painful and punitive process. Some of the submissions that have been provided to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Adult Imprisonment and Youth Detention at the moment are really gobsmacking and heart-rending. They point to the reality of the punitive nature and the failure to put the security of Tasmanians first, by the current approach that has been taken by this Government on crime and punishment and the management of the corrections system - many people would say, the mismanagement of the correction system.

What we have is a prison system in Tasmania which is more than bursting at its seams. It has completely turned around from when the Labor-Greens government from 2010 to 2014 had a Greens corrections minister. A huge amount of work was done by Nick McKim as the corrections minister to turn around a culture at the Risdon Prison Complex, in particular. He worked hard with bringing in a cultural change manager, and forcing a new culture to established at the RPC. There were a lot of newspaper headlines about that because not everyone liked it, and not all the unions liked it and there was a lot of push back. However, ultimately it led to the statistics that showed it was effective in reducing recidivism; in reducing the amount of assaults in the prison - of inmates to officers, of inmates to inmates; it reduced the amount of leave that staff were taking; and it reduced the amount of people who took time off for workplace injuries.

It was manifestly a successful approach to managing prisons. It was accompanied by support for people when they left the prison - inmates had a house to go to; and by an excellent education and training program as well as drug and behavioural support and change programs within the prison. All of that has gone.

By the repeated evidence of people; of lawyers who go in and make statements about the reality of what the people they are representing are experiencing; by the inmate's families; by the evidence of the Custodial Inspector - it is very clear that we no longer have any functioning processes in place in the Risdon Prison system that will lead to positive behaviour change. What is the point of putting people into prison to brutalise them, to treat them as subhuman, only to release them without support into the community after they have served their time, without any support, encouragement or guidance to change pre-existing behaviours, so that they have no opportunity to change their life?

This is so far from breaking the cycle. Breaking the cycle has finished under this minister for Corrections. It does not exist. We have gone past the Breaking the Cycle time frame when there should have been a new version. It has not eventuated -

Ms Archer - Watch this space.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, we have been watching for two years now. It is two years overdue.

Ms Archer - Yes; we have had COVID-19.

Dr WOODRUFF - No-one votes for prisoners. I understand why it would be easier to throw them in the rubbish bin, which is what you have been doing -

Ms Archer - They are your words.

Dr WOODRUFF - for the past nine years.

Ms Archer - That is not right.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, I will not say my words; I will read the words of Amanda White who made a submission to the upper House inquiry. She was speaking on behalf of her partner, who she called 'Mr X', who has been sentenced to Risdon. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment from January to May 2022 after he had previously served a period of 11 years in Risdon. He was a person who had a deeply traumatised childhood and he was incarcerated as a young person at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. She said his experiences from that period were disturbing, heartbreaking and all of them were horrendous.

Mr X has given his witness statement to the commission of inquiry and is now part of the concurrent class action against the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Clearly, he is a person who has been institutionalised from a very young age and somebody who claims to have suffered great abuses as a child when he should have been in the care of the state. Now, she reports on his experiences and says:

He is in a maximum security, in constant lockdown - up to five days a week or more are common occurrences, much more so than any consistent schedule of having out-of-cell time. Since 1 January this year, maximum security has had 12 days of full lockdown and 11 half days - that makes 23 days out of 31 days. February had nine days in full lockdown and 15 half days - that makes 16 out of 28 days. March had 11 days of full lockdown, no out-of-cell time, and 15 half days - 26 out of 31 days. There is no phone access when they are in lockdowns so families, like this woman, have no opportunity to find out what is happening and to report back what is happening -

Ms Archer - They all have a phone in their cells.

Dr WOODRUFF - In the maximum-security cells?

Ms Archer - No; Southern Remand.

Dr Woodruff - This is the maximum security of Risdon prison -

Ms Archer - RPC?

Dr Woodruff - RPC, that is right. Lockdowns can occur from anywhere from one to five days, and she says two to three days in a row is the average. They do not know when lockdowns are occurring, so there is just silence from their partner. When lockdowns are over and men are allowed to have access to the two telephones in the yard which all 30 inmates have to share, they are lucky if they can get a call in. From processing, she says, right through to when men are released from maximum security, they are warehoused. They are treated as sub par humans, denied basic human rights, and offered zero opportunity for rehabilitation and treatment. There are no classes, no courses, no education, no vocation, no access to online learning, no access to behavioural drug treatment, and employment within the unit is difficult to obtain.

To be brutally honest she said, the men are left to rot in RPC. They are defeated, beaten down and stripped of anything that could possibly represent progress and positivity. Health requests - mental and physical - go unanswered. Sometimes they get lost between the inmate giving it to an officer and the officer giving it to Health. The example she gave was that her partner had dental work done on 6 April - two teeth pulled out. The doctor had given him Tramadol for two days, but he only received a dose for one day. This happened over the winter period. He was in agony. The stiches fell out of his mouth on Good Friday. Although he reported it, nobody saw him until Tuesday, when he was administered antibiotics for the infection that had developed in his mouth. The Health Clinic at RPC was closed over Easter, and there was not even a skeleton crew there.

Nobody hears about these people, they cannot pick up the phone, they are in lockdown, they are hidden. These are the sort of conditions that we used to have at Port Arthur. This is the sort of failing approach to our prison system which has been demonstrated by the statistics. No one hears the voices of these people. There is no one to speak for them and vote for them because it is not something that people hear about. They do not understand how it degrades all of us to treat people in our care in this way - to leave people to rot. Fundamentally, it does not help any of us.

They get out of prison, they have nothing, they have nowhere, they have no opportunities, no capacity to change behaviour. Surely, when we are spending a fortune putting people into a prison because of a sentence, that is a golden opportunity to give that person the opportunity to change; especially to teach them how to read so that they can leave and undertake some training. Even better, to have access to training while they are there, to develop a vocation. How amazing, if somebody could learn a trade while they are in prison. It would be great for all of us, and especially for their families and children, if they had an opportunity to take up a job when they left.

So, according to Amanda, two-thirds of the current RPC population have been in there before. Half of the prisoners released will return within two years, and a third of the drug using population within RPC never had a drug problem before their incarceration.

I do not know what this Government is thinking but all I can say is a punitive approach is a populist approach that has been shown to fail consistently across states. If you think this is an election winning issue you are wrong. Being tough on crime does not work. People can see it does not work. It does not make us safer. It costs us a fortune, and it does not help families and communities.

Ms Archer - When do I use that word?

Dr WOODRUFF - I beg your pardon?

Ms Archer - When do I use those words in a corrections sense? I talk about rehabilitation all the time.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is the approach of the thing.

I know you spoke against this, but when Liberal Party candidates can stand for election and be allowed to use, in a populist way, the testimony from the commission of inquiry's findings as a campaigning tool, you were the only person in your Government who stood up and denounced it for what it was. The fact is, it was left to run and supported by the police minister, minister Ellis. It was despicable to use the commission of inquiry on child sex abuse, as a campaigning tool. It is base politics.

There is more funding for the custodial inspector but most importantly for it to reinvigorate and to put resources into vocational and educational programs and behavioural and drug programs, but particularly into educational programs. Without that, people have nowhere to go. They have no opportunity to change.

Ms Archer - I am not arguing that.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is just not happening, it is on your watch.

Ms Archer - It is.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is not.

Ms Archer - There is more funding in Corrections than there has ever been.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is not about funding in Corrections. It is about funding inter-educational programs. Specifically, inter-educational programs.

Ms Archer - It does not happen without funding.

Dr WOODRUFF - I do not know where you get your information from, but we have not heard from anybody that these programs are running, certainly not like they used to be 10 years ago. Maybe you need to chat to some of the well-paid staff.

Ms Archer - They were cut. The previous government cut them. Ten years ago.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, no, no. You should have a chat to Nick McKim about what he did as the previous Corrections minister.

Ms Archer - He cut them.

Dr WOODRUFF - He was very successful and all the statistics stand for themselves.

Ms Archer - They cut TasTAFE.

Dr WOODRUFF - In prisons? Just have a chat. You do not have to let anyone else in your party know you are trying to do something.

Ms Archer - We have actually brought TasTAFE back to the prison.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - It would make all the difference to Tasmania. There is a national group now - the Justice Reform Initiative. They are making the obvious and strong statements. People from all political persuasions, from all parties, ex-magistrates, ex-justices, people who are from the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties are coming together and saying that jailing is failing. It is failing as a deterrent. It is failing the victims of crime because they are not helped by a tough-on-crime rhetoric.

It is obviously failing the people who are the most disadvantaged because of the incredibly high recidivism rate that has continued to rise under this Government over the last 10 years, far more than it was in 2014.

It is also failing people with mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities, people who have no behavioural change program opportunities, who have no mental health support that is effective in prison. They have no education to deal help them with their cognitive disability.

It is failing women who are the fastest growing cohort of prison populations who are separated from children and who are made further victims of this systemic failure. It is a purposeful failure. At the end of the day, it is failing taxpayers because it is such an appalling misuse of government funding. We know that we could be reducing the crime rate which is fundamentally the reason for sentencing people and putting them in jail in the first place because of crimes that are undertaken. We can do that so much more effectively if we had a positive rehabilitative approach to managing prisons instead of a punitive one.