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Waiting for a tragedy – NT Government must urgently address inhumane conditions at Alice Springs prison

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 4 January 2024

The recent incident at Alice Springs prison, involving around 15 people attempting to escape their cells during a heatwave on Boxing Day, once again highlights the urgent need to address the ongoing inhumane conditions at the overcrowded facility.

The Justice Reform Initiative is calling on the NT Government to urgently install air-conditioning units at the prison as a critical first step to ensure the dangerous conditions inside the facility do not continue to put both staff and those held there at unnecessary risk.

“The incident on Boxing Day highlights the pressing need for immediate action to address these inhumane conditions, particularly during times of extreme heat,” Justice Reform Initiative board member and patron Olga Havnen said.

“This is not a matter that can wait for a tragedy to occur. The 2018 riot, triggered by similar conditions, serves as a stark reminder of the urgency in addressing this issue.

“The government must move beyond mere lip service and provide a concrete timeline for improving conditions within the prison. Failing to act promptly jeopardises the health and safety of both those being held there and staff working there.”

The NT Ombudsman responded to previous incidents by urging the government to install air conditioning devices to mitigate the risks associated with extreme temperatures, but the recommendation was denied due to cost.

The Northern Territory already has both the highest rates of incarceration and recidivism in the country. While Ms Havnen said reducing the number of people being managed in prisons was critical to address overcrowding, it was imperative the current conditions be improved.

“Temperatures in Alice Springs routinely soared above 35 degrees in December, putting the wellbeing of those being held all day in maximum security cells at risk,” she said.

“We are already funnelling too many people into harmful prison settings – but it is even more unacceptable to hold people in conditions that are dangerous and inhumane.”

“Community organisations, particularly those led by First Nations groups, have been repeatedly sounding the alarm about the harsh conditions within the Alice Springs prison facility.

“Roebourne in Western Australia, which had similar concerns, has already committed to installing air conditioning and the NT Government needs to do the same at Alice Springs as a matter of urgency.”

Media contact: Amy Price, 0437 027 156

The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

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