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Prisons will never be safe, but returning them to public ownership is a step in the right direction - ALS

Giovanni Torre -

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ALS has welcomed the NSW Government's move to de-privatise Junee Correctional Centre, and urged the government to follow through with bringing all private prisons back into public hands.

ALS chief executive Karly Warner said prisons are "inherently harmful and dangerous places, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are still dying in custody".

"Private corporations have profited from our suffering for too many years. When prisons are run for profit, there will always be a focus on the bottom line that competes with the wellbeing and safety of imprisoned people," she said.

Coronial inquests and government inquiries have shown that privately run prisons deliver second-rate healthcare and expose prisoners to higher levels of violence in custody, ALS NSW/ACT noted.

The ALS has represented family members at coronial inquests into the deaths of Aboriginal men Reuben Button and Danny Whitton, who were both inmates of Junee Correctional Centre when they died in 2020 and 2015 respectively. In both cases, the Coroner was critical of inadequate medical care provided by the prison.

An inquest was also held into the 2018 suicide of Aboriginal man Jonathon Hogan at Junee Correctional Centre, with the Coroner finding that he received insufficient treatment for mental health issues in the months leading to his death.

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT also noted that "the injustice of subpar healthcare and disability support is not limited to private prisons – there is a long way to go to improve safety in publicly owned prisons, too".

Ms Warner said public prisons are also overcrowded and "fail to provide adequate basic healthcare, let alone access to specialist treatment, disability support services, and culturally safe healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".

"The NSW Government must take action to address the recognisable gap in the level of healthcare and disability supports received by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons and youth detention centres. This means investing in culturally safe, wrap-around, continuous healthcare and disability supports which promote strength, connection to culture and community, and healing," Ms Warner said.

ALS said the state's prisons consistently fail to reduce crime, with almost half of all adults released from prison in NSW convicted of another offence within 12 months, and 85 per cent of young people back behind bars within a year.

"Imprisonment isn't working, and prisons will never be safe places – not for our people and not for communities," Ms Warner said.

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