Calls for change following allegations Indigenous woman was stripsearched in front of other inmates

ACT politicians and prisoner advocates have called for an investigation after allegations a female Indigenous detainee in Canberra’s jail was stripsearched in front of male inmates have been made public.

The 37-year-old prisoner said the incident happened as she was being transferred to a crisis support unit at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) last month.

“I am a rape victim so you can only imagine the horror, the screams, the degrading feeling, the absolute fear and shame I was experiencing.”

Yesterday Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service CEO Julie Tongs said the woman’s human rights had been completely disregarded.

Asked whether she believed there was systemic racism in the jail, ACT Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said it would be “naive” to assume there was not.

But her fellow ACT MLA, Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman, questioned whether the alleged incident was an example of racism.

“I do support the staff,” he said.

“I don’t know that the assertion from Ms Tongs is correct.”

Calls for change sparked

Cell door Cell door
The woman said she was taken to a crisis support cell and stripsearched in front of other inmates and staff.(ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank)

Caroline Doyle from ACT Prisoners Aid said the alleged incident appeared to have broken a number of rules which determined how and when a prisoner could be searched.

“The officer searching the individual must be of the same sex as the detainee, there must not be unreasonable removal of clothing, and it must be conducted in an area that is considered private,” she said.

Additional rules apply in the AMC’s crisis support unit, which the woman was being transferred to when the alleged incident occurred.

“One or two Corrections officers may be present, but there may not be an unreasonable number of Corrections officers there,” Dr Doyle said.

Both ACT Greens and the ACT Liberals have said they are pursuing further information about what happened.

Shadow Minister for Corrections Elizabeth Kikkert described it as “a very disturbing allegation” and called for a thorough investigation.

The Human Rights Commission and the ombudsman are investigating the incident.

Both said they were unable to comment while the allegations were the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Allegations coincide with Invasion Day march

Rachel looks serious while addressing the media in a grey pantsuit.Rachel looks serious while addressing the media in a grey pantsuit.
ACT Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said: “It would be naive to think any part of the ACT Government is the one place where systemic racism doesn’t exist.”(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The allegations were made public yesterday as about 1,000 people marched towards Parliament House as part of Australia Day protests.

In the crowd was Ms Stephen-Smith, who holds both the Health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs portfolios.

Ms Stephen-Smith said she felt it was important to attend and show solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and she was happy with the steps protestors took to meet coronavirus guidelines.

“People were taking their responsibilities in terms of COVID seriously, keeping in their own groups,” she said.

“Many people wore masks, including me. Lots and lots of people took that step even though it wasn’t required.”

Ms Stephen-Smith has previously made it clear she is in favour of changing the date of Australia Day.

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