Recommendation 46: prison facilities for Anangu men

First posted on 26 September 2008 under Mullighan Inquiry.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: courts and prisons & infrastructure

Summary

For more than a decade, the State Department for Correctional Services (DCS) has been investigating the possibility of establishing a correctional facility on or near the APY Lands. In April 2008, the Mullighan Inquiry recommended that a short-term remand facility should be established on the APY Lands from where Anangu could be transferred to the Port Augusta Prison and other correctional facilities. The Inquiry’s proposed short-term facility differed significantly from the low-security correctional facility that DCS has been proposing.

In July 2008, the South Australian Government indicated that it did not support the Inquiry’s recommendation, noting that such a facility would be costly to build and operate and would divert scarce resources from other priorities. At the same time, the Government reported that it was building a new facility at the Port Augusta Prison for traditional Aboriginal men that “will better enable authorities to remove prisoners on remand” from the APY Lands.[i] On 30 October 2008, the Government stated that it expected this new facility to be completed by the end of 2008.[ii] The facility was officially opened on 20 July 2009.[iii]

In September 2010, the Government reported that it was planning to examine the possibility of “establishing a low-security correctional facility for Aboriginal offenders” from the APY Lands.[iv]

The Paper Trail

Aboriginal incarceration rates

Aboriginal prisoners represent 24% of the total Australian prisoner population. This proportion varies considerably across the states and territories. In the Northern Territory 84% of the prisoner population is Aboriginal while Victoria has the lowest proportion (6%).[v]

In South Australia, Aboriginal people are 12.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal people and represent 22% of the total prisoner population.[vi]

Around 40% of the prisoners held in the Port Augusta Prison identify as Aboriginal.[vii]

In October 2004, 50 prisoners from the APY Lands were imprisoned in that facility.[viii] The following year, South Australia Police indicated that, at any one time, around 75% of the Anangu in the Port Augusta Prison were being held on remand.[ix]

In 2008, the Paper Tracker sought information from the Department for Correctional Services (DCS) about the number of Anangu then held in Port Augusta. The Department did not provide any specific data instead advising that:

The number of Aboriginal people from the APY Lands held at Port Augusta Prison varies on a day to day basis, as does the percentage held on remand.[x]

Planning for a prison on or near the APY Lands

In 1999, DCS began planning for the establishment of a “low-security correctional facility on, or adjacent to,” the APY Lands.[xi]

In part, this work grew out of the Department’s recognition that:

traditional Aboriginal people have different needs to those living in urban or regional centres with respect to incarceration, rehabilitation, health and spiritual well-being.[xii]

The Department also felt that a facility located on or near the APY Lands would benefit prisoner rehabilitation through the easier involvement of Aboriginal communities and family members “who currently have to travel great distances to support the rehabilitation of offenders in Port Augusta”.[xiii]

In 2000 and 2001, the Department investigated three possible sites for the facility. However, due to a number of reasons ranging from “an inadequate water supply to the reluctance of traditional owners to see a facility established on their land”, none of those sites were deemed suitable.[xiv]

The Department subsequently located a potential property adjacent to the APY Lands (100 kilometres south east of Marla). The lack of capital and operational funding prevented the purchase and development of that property which was subsequently sold to another party.[xv]

In March 2004, the Attorney-General’s Department finalised a proposal that would have seen a low-security facility developed as part of the State Infrastructure Plan.[xvi] Five months later, the Attorney-General reported that:

  • the estimated capital cost for a facility on or near the APY Lands “would depend on location, site factors, availability of water and power etc,” and
  • the “recurrent costs for a facility able to accommodate up to 12 offenders at a time [had] been estimated at $0.5 million per year.”[xvii]

In late 2004, the State Coroner received evidence on the planned facility as part of an inquest into the deaths of four Anangu. Handing down his findings on 14 March 2005, the Coroner recommended that the Premier of South Australia:

should consider as a matter of urgency how the development of a culturally appropriate correctional facility, on or near the [APY] Lands, or as part of a tri-state development at some other reasonably proximate location, might be accelerated.[xviii]

In May 2005, the State Government engaged some consultants to investigate the feasibility of establishing a facility.[xix] In September 2005, the consultants reported that:

  • the “concept” of a low level security facility “is sound, and has widespread support among Anangu … as well as the support of other key stakeholders, the Judiciary, SA Police, and SA Department for Corrections staff at all levels of the Department”,
  • a facility on or near the APY Lands would offer opportunities “to manage traditional Aboriginal offenders more appropriately than is possible at Port Augusta Prison and to support their reintegration into the community”,
  • “the level of demand, estimated from numbers of people imprisoned in the Port Augusta Prison for low-level offences, puts the likely number of residents” at “between twelve and twenty males”,
  • consultations had found “strongest support … for the facility to be located near Umuwa or near Marla”, and
  • the estimated capital cost for establishing a facility near an existing centre like Umuwa would be “around $6 million, excluding fees.”[xx]

Almost a year after the consultant’s report was completed, the then State Minister for Correctional Services (Hon Carmel Zollo MLC) informed Parliament that “no decision has been taken at this stage” but that the “business case” developed by the consultant had been forwarded to the APY Executive Board for its consideration.[xxi]

In July 2007, the Department for Correctional Services indicated that the matter had “been referred to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation for consideration in the context of whole of government initiatives for the Lands.” The Department also noted that a 2007/2008 budget provision would allow ten “low security beds” to be established “within the perimeter of the Port Augusta prison for traditional Aboriginal men.”[xxii] The Chief Executive of the Department added:

While that does not move the facility to the APY Lands, nevertheless, from a correctional administrator’s point of view, it provides us with an opportunity to manage traditional Aboriginal men in culturally more appropriate circumstances than we are currently able to do.[xxiii]

Mullighan Inquiry

In June 2007, the South Australian Parliament established an Inquiry into the incidence of child sexual abuse on the APY Lands. In the course of its work, the Mullighan Inquiry investigated the administration of justice on the APY Lands. Its final report highlighted the inadequacy of existing police, court and detention facilities:

There are no cells on the Lands to adequately accommodate persons on remand in custody, or sentenced to imprisonment. There are no facilities for interviewing witnesses and persons charged, or for trials, except at Marla and in the communities where there are [PY Ku] transaction centres.[xxiv]

Concerning the 2005 feasibility study, the Inquiry stated that it would not be appropriate “at this time … to make any adverse comment about the lack of such a facility.”[xxv] It did, however, highlight the need for a “short-term facility for holding prisoners” to be built on the Lands as soon as new police stations, with lock-up facilities, had been constructed:

Once prisoners are received in cells at a police station, there must be close supervision of them at all times to ensure their safety which will require the attention of resident police officers.

If the prisoner is to be kept in custody, usually on remand, it would be an onerous burden on the police to maintain the required degree of supervision resulting in the inability to attend to usual police work…

The care of prisoners for longer than a brief period, such as overnight or during a day, requires the expertise of the Department for Corrections. A facility should be established on the Lands adjacent to an all-weather airfield to which prisoners can be delivered by police and at which they can be adequately cared for by corrections officers suitably trained and experienced in caring for Aboriginal prisoners.

The Inquiry was informed that it would be financially cheaper to the Department for Corrections to have a contractual relationship with a provider of aircraft services to transport the prisoners to and from the corrections facility at Port Augusta than to keep them for substantial periods in a facility on the Lands.[xxvi]

On 30 April 2008, the Mullighan Inquiry formally recommended (Recommendation 46):

That a corrections facility be established on the Lands for prisoners on remand on a short-term basis.

That prisoners on remand for longer than short-term be removed from the Lands to the corrections facility at Port Augusta or elsewhere, as determined in the usual way by the Department for Corrections.

That the State Government arrange air travel for the removal of prisoners from the Lands and their return for court appearances.[xxvii]

The Government’s Preliminary Response to Recommendation 46

On 24 July 2008, the South Australian Government tabled its Preliminary Response to the Mullighan Inquiry in State Parliament.

As part of that process, the Government indicated that it did not accept Recommendation 46:

The Government does not believe that, given the significant competing priorities for resources on the Lands, the significant capital and operational costs of establishing a remand correctional facility on APY Lands for prisoners on remand is the best use of those resources in addressing community safety and the protection of children.[xxviii]

At the same time, the Government noted that it was “building 12 beds for traditional Aboriginal men at the Port Augusta correctional facility” and that this would “better enable authorities to remove prisoners on remand from the Lands to Port Augusta.”[xxix]

In response to these statements, the Paper Tracker sought information from the Department for Correctional Services. On 8 September 2008, the Department advised:

Work is progressing towards the commissioning in late November 2008 of a culturally-appropriate 12-bed unit designed for Aboriginal men from traditional communities in the APY Lands and elsewhere in the State. It is to be built in the medium security zone of the prison.

The unit has been designed to suit the cultural needs of traditional Aboriginal prisoners without compromising the security and safety needs of a prison accommodation facility.

Accommodation will incorporate a combination of 2x 4-bed and 2x 2-bed dormitory style sleeping areas, with … bathroom facilities and shared common areas. Food and laundry services will be provided from the prison’s central facilities …

Once completed, this unit will further add to the Department for Correctional Services’ ability to appropriately accommodate Aboriginal men.[xxx]

The Paper Tracker notes that the Government’s Response to Recommendation 46 referred to the proposed 12-bed facility at the Port Augusta Prison designed specifically for Aboriginal men.  The Paper Tracker understands that the development of this initiative commenced prior to the completion of the Mullighan Inquiry.[xxxi] The Paper Tracker assumes that the Inquiry was properly briefed about the initiative and took its potential impact into consideration prior to finalising its recommendations.

On 30 October 2008, the State Government released its Full Response to the Mullighan Inquiry. In relation to Recommendation 46, it stated that it expected the 12-bed unit at the Port Augusta Prison to be completed by the end of 2008.[xxxii]

On 12 June 2009, the Department for Correctional Services advised the Paper Tracker that the 12-bed facility had been “completed at the end of May 2009” and that it expected prisoners would begin to be accommodated in this facility “over the next few weeks.”[xxxiii]

On 20 July 2009, the 12-bed “Traditional Aboriginal Unit” – located in the Port Augusta Prison complex – was formally opened by the State Minister for Correctional Services (Hon Tom Koutsantonis MP). At that time, the Minister commented:

The new unit … is named Pakani Arangka, which means ‘fresh starting place’ or “growing out of” in Pitjantjatjara. It gives Aboriginal prisoners the chance to reform their lives in a culturally-appropriate environment.[xxxiv]

Additional information (added 29 November 2010)

On 2 October 2010, the State Government released a discussion paper on its plans to update the Strategic Infrastructure Plan for South Australia.[xxxv]

The discussion paper indicated that the Government is planning to:

consider options for reconfiguring the prison system and establishing a low-security correctional facility for Aboriginal offenders from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.[xxxvi]

This article was last updated in November 2010. It has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” p[48].

[ii] Government of South Australia, 30 October 2008, “Implementation Statement by the Minister for Families and Communities to the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry,” p73.

[iii] Koutsantonis. T. 20 July 2009. “Fresh start for Aboriginal offenders,” media release.

[iv] Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure. September 2010. Strategic Infrastructure Plan for South Australia: 2010 Discussion Paper, Government of South Australia, p80.

[v] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007, Prisoners in Australia, Cat. No. 4517.0, p17. http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/2BA146126F0385C8CA2573AF0014C036/$File/45170_2007.pdf Accessed 24 September 2008.

[vi] The ABS report indicates that as of 30 June 2007, South Australia had a total of 1771 prisoners of whom 389 were identified as being Indigenous (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007, Prisoners in Australia, Cat. No. 4517.0, p17). See also: Productivity Commission, 2007, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007, 3.126.

[vii] Severin, P. 8 September 2008. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald. As of September 2008, the prison had the capacity to hold up to 363 prisoners.

[viii] At that time, the State Government estimated that the number of Anangu held there generally ranged between 40 and 50 (Atkinson, M. 1 October 2005, Information provided to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, Parliament of South Australia, p4).

[ix] Tregenza, J. et al. September 2005, “Feasibility of a low level security correctional facility for traditional Aboriginal offenders – APY Lands” pv.

[x] Severin, P. 8 September 2008. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xi] Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p6.

[xii] Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p6.

[xiii] Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p7.

[xiv] Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p6.

[xv] Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p6-7. See also: Brokenshire, R. 23 September 2008, “Copper Hills Station,” Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p101

[xvi] This proposal was submitted to the Office for Infrastructure (see Powell, L. 3 November 2004, “Statement of Lange Powell” provided to State Coroner, p9).

[xvii] Holloway P. 5 August 2004, Letter and report provided to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, (report p8).

[xviii] Chivell, W. 14 March 2005. Findings of Inquest into the death of Kunmanara Ward, Ken, Ryan and Cooper, Section 13, Recommendation 10.

[xix] The consultancy was undertaken by Kutjara consultants. Department contract no: DCS015. http://www.tenders.sa.gov.au/tenders/index.docontract/view.do?id=1404 Accessed 21 March 2006.

[xx] Tregenza, J. et al. September 2005, “Feasibility of a low level security correctional facility for traditional Aboriginal offenders – APY Lands” piv, v, 66 & 67.

[xxi] Zollo, C. 29 August 2006, “Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands Correctional Facility,” Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p518.

[xxii] Severin, P. 3 July 2007, Hansard, House of Assembly, Estimates Committee A, Parliament of South Australia, p166.

[xxiii] Severin, P. 3 July 2007, Hansard, House of Assembly, Estimates Committee A, Parliament of South Australia, p166.

[xxiv] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p252.

[xxv] That noted, the Inquiry’s report did comment: “In view of dysfunction in communities on the Lands, violence, drug and alcohol abuse and issues of retribution and payback, it is difficult to see how any corrections facility could be of low-level security. Prisoners would have to be kept secure for the protection of the community as well as their own protection” (Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p254).

[xxvi] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p254.

[xxvii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxix.

[xxviii] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” p[48]. See also: Weatherill, J. 24 July 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3990.

[xxix] Government of South Australia, July 2008, “Response by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to the ‘Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry: A report into sexual abuse’,” p[48].

[xxx] Severin, P. 8 September 2008. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxxi] This understanding is premised on the assumption that the 10-bed facility announced in July 2007 and the 12-bed facility announced in July 2008 are two versions of the same development. The Paper Tracker has asked DCS to confirm this assumption (Nicholls, J. 24 September 2008. Email to P. Severin).

[xxxii] Government of South Australia, 30 October 2008, “Implementation Statement by the Minister for Families and Communities to the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry,” p73.

[xxxiii] Johnson, C (DCS). 12 June 2009. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xxxiv] Koutsantonis. T. 20 July 2009. “Fresh start for Aboriginal offenders,” media release.

[xxxv] Conlon, P. 2 October 2010. “Infrastructure Planning for the next decade and beyond,” media release.

[xxxvi] Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure. September 2010. Strategic Infrastructure Plan for South Australia: 2010 Discussion Paper, Government of South Australia, p80.

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