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Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Peach of a job? New position for Corrective Services Commissioner

ACT Corrective Services Commissioner Jon Peach is taking on a new role within the Justice and Community Safety Directorate: executive general manager of Security and Emergency Management, the ACT Government announced this morning.

His new role is a response to the growing security and emergency management national agenda, a government spokesperson said.

“Mr Peach has a strong background in safety and security from his time in the UK Armed Forces and as Director for Security Services in the Department of Corrective Services in Western Australia.”

He was appointed Commissioner in 2017, after governing a British prison and managing all 18 adult prisons in WA.

“Mr Peach had always been passionate about the role of Corrections in rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, and the ability of Corrections to make a positive difference not just for those in his care but also for the wider ACT community,” an ACT government spokesperson said.

The announcement follows the news today that an Aboriginal woman inmate allegedly strip-searched in front of men prisoners at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) will sue.

The ACT Government did not answer Canberra Weekly’s enquiry whether problems at the AMC contributed to Mr Peach moving roles.

Prisoners rioted at the AMC late last year, setting fire to cells and the prison yard. Prison officers have frequently been attacked, even hospitalised, the ABC revealed. The AMC is, according to the RiotAct, a “prison in crisis”, with high staff absenteeism, low morale and poor discipline.

AMC staff have complained about the management of the prison. In December, the Canberra Times reported, CPSU regional secretary Maddy Northam and Liberal MLA Giulia Jones said prison staff did not feel respected or heard by management. A 2019 staff survey shows that more than 80% of staff members disagreed the AMC was run well, and 77% complained management did not make necessary changes.

The Indigenous community believe there is a systematic culture of racism at the AMC – “a bloodbath”, in Indigenous health advocate Julie Tongs‘s words. Mr Peach has acknowledged and condemned at least one racist incident at the AMC.

The ACT Government itself has launched an oversight committee headed by Christine Nixon to improve the AMC and the Court Transport Unit, following the AMC Healthy Prison Review by the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services.

The government has already responded to many of the Review’s 73 recommendations, most of which it said it anticipated.

Ms Northam welcomed the announcement of a change in management at the AMC.

“Today, our members feel heard. For years now, CPSU members have been telling anyone that will listen that they are understaffed and overworked. There have been times our members haven’t felt supported by the senior management at the AMC when they just wanted to do their job,” she said.

“We know that when staff are well resourced and well trained that they can do their job properly. This leads to better outcomes for staff and detainees.”

Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman promised that reform and improvements would remain at the top of the agenda for Corrections in the ACT.

“I thank Jon for his efforts as ACTCS Commissioner, and wish him the best in his new Security and Emergency Management role,” Mr Gentleman said.

ESA Deputy Commissioner Ray Johnson will act as ACT Corrective Services Commissioner while the government recruits a permanent replacement. 

“As ACT Chief Police Officer and ESA Deputy Commissioner, Ray has demonstrated his commitment to keeping the Canberra community safe,” Mr Gentleman said.

“Ray’s work reviewing the 2019-20 bushfire season and leading ESA’s People and Culture teams means he is well placed to carry forward reforms underway in corrections.

“This includes championing the needs of staff and ensuring corrections officers are well equipped and trained to safely perform their roles.”

Deputy Commissioner Johnson’s role at ESA will be backfilled over this time.

Ms Northam said that a new Commissioner along with the Blueprint for Change would offer an opportunity for a reset at the AMC. She looked forward to working with the new Commissioner and with Christine Nixon to focus on Correctional Officer safety at the AMC.

“Correctional Officers have a tough job,” Ms Northam said. “They deserve to be well staffed, well trained, and supported by their senior management. I hope that this is a step in the right direction.”

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