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Prison Issues

Hangzhou Prison Delegation Visit Nov. 2017

A delegation of six Chinese prison bureaucrats from the Hangzhou Municipal Justice Bureau, visited Justice Action on the 15th November. The delegates from the Zhejiang province, China were led by Deputy Director Mr Zhang Liansheng. They wanted to know about our operations, how we represent prisoners’ interests and improve the social and mental health of prisoners. They also wanted to exchange information and ideas, as well as to set up a friendly relationship.

JA described its unique position in being the voice for prisoners and forensic patients. Specific emphasis is placed on restorative justice as an alternative to prison, lessening isolation during imprisonment for prisoners through Computers in Cells and improving relationships with victims.

The Women’s Justice Network (WJN) joined us where the president, Kat Armstrong presented her work in improving the lives of women affected by the criminal justice system through mentoring. Kat statistically presented the rates of incarcerated females being 15 times the rate of males, and the WJN revealed a 7% recidivism rate for women, whereas the typical recidivism rate in the criminal justice system is 51% per year.

JA explained how it is independent and not government funded, instead supported by the social enterprise Breakout Media Communications. Restorative Justice was mentioned as an alternative to prison and aids resettlement back into the community. Mr Zhang understood the implementation of mediation (tiaojie) as means of reconciliation between all involved parties. Secondly, the concept of lessening isolation during imprisonment ultimately reduces recidivism and makes reintegration into society easier. This is achievable through Computers in Cells which provides the opportunity of communication between prisoners and their families, as well as making online counselling more accessible. Finally by offering ‘shelter, safety, social support and positive activity’ post-release it provides help for inmates to become positive contributors to society.

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International Interactions

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LATEST NEWS
China Hangzhou Prison Delegation Visit 15th November 2017
Chinese Prison Delegation Visit 10th August 2017
Youth Access - International Survey on Computers in Cells

To assist the work of Justice Action in the local community of Australia, and to promote criminal justice worldwide, we study also the prison conditions in other jurisdictions outside Australia. Recent work includes a meeting with Chinese Prison Delegation and an International Survey on youth access of computers in cells.

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Chinese Prison Delegation Visit 10th August 2017

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Full Report - Chinese Prison Delegation Visit
Video Presentation of the meeting

JA presented to the top 24 bureaucrats from the Bureau of Prison Administration of the People’s Republic of China on the 10th of August 2017. Earlier they visited Long Bay and Silverwater prisons, as well as a briefing from Corrective Services NSW.

We were asked to present prisoners’ views on resettlement and how our experiences could help them. We invited the Women’s Justice Network to join us. Two flyers including Chinese translations were distributed to the officials.

Click here to read our presentation paper to the Bureau of Prison Administration.
Click here to read the paper of WJN about women prisoners.

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NSW Exposed In Australian Government Report

ROGS

Latest News:
Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2017

Overview:
Released on the 31st of January 2017, the Report on Government Services demonstrates the failure of the NSW corrections system. Firstly, NSW has the most time in cells of all Australian jurisdictions, where prisoners spend 17.5 hours inside their cell per day for secure facilities where most prisoners are held (Table 8A.12 on p.475). Remand prisoners are held for 18.5 hours a day in cells according to the Full House Report by the Inspector General s4.56. It has got worse each year as you can see from that Commonwealth Report on Government Services.

Furthermore, NSW has the worse recidivism of all states and is getting worse. Defined as returning to prison under sentence within two years, last years recidivism rate stood at 50.7%, up from 48.1% the year before and 45.8 in 2014 (See Table C.5 on p.23). This is a total failure compared to the State Plan. NSW State priority in the State Plan:

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Prison Privatisation

Minister for Corrections David Elliott admits failure-

Gaols are not for sale!

The concerning issue of the privatisation of prisons in Australia in New Zealand is at an all time high. The New South Wales Government in Australia is allowing a private operator to bid to run a gaol in Sydney’s North West- The John Morony Correctional Centre. The SMH released an article on March 21 2016 reporting the significant pressure about to be placed on public prisons in that they must meet their performance aims or risk being run by the private sector. In response, the Public Service Association understand the privatisation of prisons as “another short sighted cash grab” through the obvious lack of liability and pellucidity.

The current regulation of Mt Eden’s Prison in Auckland New Zealand by Serco is being investigated for their incompetent efforts of management of the prison as the profit they have accumulated have been put elsewhere than in the public service as assured. This is just one example of the failure of privatisation of prisons.  The Article states; “We are demanding a full, independent investigation into Serco’s involvement in Mt Eden Prison. One with the integrity and scope that the New Zealand public deserves. But that’s not all. We are also demanding a moratorium on the consideration of Serco for any further public sector contracts. Because we can’t afford to let them fail again in Children’s Services, Mental Health or State Housing.” – Say no to Serco in Aotearoa, Action Station.

Serco have also failed to stop fight clubs, drinking and drug use….

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Computers In Cells Project Crowdfunding

The campaign for the computers in cells project has officially been launched. All Members of Parliament, Judges and Magistrates have been sent letters requesting their support for the computers in cells campaign. For more details about the campaign, click here. 

We need your help to ensure that this campaign lifts and gains momentum. Every donation will assist in giving people inside access to life-changing counselling, legal and educational services through computers in cells. Finally it is starting to move.

The proceeds raised will fund the campaign coordination, as well as aiding in the research and implementation of the computers in cells project.  We ask that you help us provide detainees whether in prison, locked hospitals or juvenile justice centres with much needed access to computers, by donating to our GoFundMe page. We aim to raise $230,000 to ensure this task runs to completion. 

 

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Online Legal Services

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LATEST NEWS

Victory: Computers for Legal Access in Liristis v State of New South Wales
27/04/2017 Media 
Release: Computer Restrictions Justify Bail  

Overview
Everyone is entitled to justice, and to fair treatment before the law. This especially includes people in prison who are totally dependent on state control and the most vulnerable, subject to the harshest punishment available. However prisoners are often unable to exercise those legal rights, isolated from support, in cells without resources, but with time and incentive to defend themselves.

People in prisons must have the ability to access resources that assist preparing their defence, and exercising their right to a fair trial. This is why it is essential for people in prisons to have access to computers, as a tool to access evidence, a source of legal knowledge and the ability to present information to help themselves. That right is supported by many cases. The courts can adjourn and release to bail.

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University Textbook Access-Jeffrey McKane

In a victory not only for Jeffrey McKane, but for all prisoners’ access to education, Justice Action has now succeeded in providing Mr McKane with access to the textbooks that are necessary to support his legal education.

Justice Action has been attempting to support Mr McKane’s educational endeavours by accessing online lecture materials on his behalf and sending him other vital learning materials, such as textbooks. The Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW gave express written permission for Justice Action to send textbooks to Mr McKane in a letter of 10 August 2016, advising that “all mail must be sent through the normal mail processes for checking”.  However, despite following the Commissioner’s directions, the textbooks sent by Justice Action to Goulburn Correctional Centre were rejected by prison mail officers on two separate occasions.

After Justice Action directly contacted the Commissioner, reminding him of his earlier assurance, it was arranged that Justice Action would send textbooks and other materials to Jeffrey McKane by addressing packages to the General Manager of the prison.  Justice Action has now been able to successfully provide Mr McKane with the textbooks that will allow him to meaningfully continue his studies in prison.

Justice Action took on Mr McKane’s case to protect his universal right of access to education. For individuals within the criminal justice system, this right is significant as it may facilitate further rehabilitation, ensure greater productivity during incarceration and provide a solid foundation for employment and self-development opportunities upon post-release.

This case provides a promising precedent for access to education in NSW prisons. We wish Jeffrey the best of luck with his future studies.

Prisoner Education Success Despite Ban

A huge achievement for a prisoner pursuing his right to education. Jeffrey McKane is a prisoner who, with the help of Justice Action, overcame numerous barriers – most of all being blocked by Corrective Services NSW – to complete his education. Jeffrey has just completed LAW00051: Legal Research and Writing at Southern Cross University, achieving the high result of a credit grade. The achievement is even more remarkable given that the NSW government this year has sacked almost 90% of teachers in prisons, and he did it with no support.

Jeffrey faced many barriers on his path to education. After Corrective Services NSW refused Jeffrey access to education in early 2016, JA intervened on the principle of the right to education. JA enrolled him to the university, supplied him with downloaded lecture notes and textbooks, and corresponded with him and academic staff. His success is a huge win for prisoners seeking to further their education.

With Education Officers in Goulburn Jail ending their jobs on Friday, 9th December 2016, the struggle will continue. Jeffrey will need to print and send his assignments to the University, and access audio CDs to listen to lectures. JA will continue to support Jeffrey in his public fight for an education. We will ask CSNSW to ensure Jeffrey’s access isn’t blocked.

The government has moved towards privatising prisoner education by sacking 138 out of 158 teachers and putting up for tender privately contracted trainers. The Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, claims that the new system will enable more prisoners to have the opportunity to access numeracy and literacy classes with the aim of reducing recidivism but has supplied no details regarding how this transition will occur and there is no evidence to support the claim that this system will be better off losing 138 qualified teachers trained in prison education.

Benefits of Education

  1.       Physical and Mental Health and Wellbeing 
  2.       Reducing Substance Abuse
  3.       Reducing Recidivism
  4.       Employment and Rehabilitation
  5.       Personal Development and Self-expression

Firstly, we believe that education will improve the wellbeing of the prisoner during their time incarcerated. Education carries enormous potential in simply providing a positive outlet for prisoners’ time. This is particularly important when we consider the long, monotonous hours prisoners are subject to while incarcerated, potentially reducing the use of illicit substances, amongst other self-destructive behaviours, to ‘pass the time.’ The case of Tracy Brannigan’s death in custody is one example of where education, had it been available, may have altered the unfortunate outcome. Justice Action firmly believes that mere access to education and a computer would have allowed her to use her time in prison effectively, which had often been spent locked down in her cell for hours on end. To ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again, we have proposed an action plan that should be considered by all stakeholders.

Not only will education in prison improve the wellbeing of offenders during their time incarcerated, but it will also help the offender shape their own identity. In doing so, this will allow them to deviate from their old lifestyle and become a functional member of society. As a result, an array of opportunities in areas of employment, ranging from the trades to the humanities, will open up for them to pursue once released. The US has shown this to be the case, as prisoners who participated in correctional educational programs were 43 percent less likely to reoffend.

"All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality” (Article 6 of the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners).  It is often misconceived that education only refers to intellectual and academic progression.  However as insulated through the aforementioned principle, education in fact includes infinite and invaluable ways of enriching individuals spiritually, culturally, socially, economically and personally. It should involve access to a variety of structured programs and unstructured learning hubs from which an individual can choose.  The availability of choice provides individuals with the freedom of self-directed learning so that they can pursue personal interest for their own betterment and enrichment.  It is through education that prisoners and forensic patients can increase the likelihood of successful and relatively easy reintegration into society upon their release as the process of learning provides individuals with more avenues for employment and thus financial independence.  

Education Rights

LATEST NEWS
RAND (Reports on the efficacy of prison education programs)
Prisoner Public Education Attacked
Denying Education to the Willing: The Jeffrey McKane Story
Computers in Cells Roundtable DIscussion
Prison Education Public Forum Footage
Prison Education Public Forum Summary Paper

OVERVIEW
What is education?  Put simply, education is power.  It is the power of opportunity and self-determination.

See our Education Position Paper.

The access and quality of education services to those within the prison and mental health care systems continues to be an area of great debate and discussion. It is inevitable that many in society view individuals within the prison and mental health care systems as unworthy or undeserving of such a “privilege”. However, education is a basic human right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to which all deserve access irrespective of social or economic status, or personal circumstance. Australia formally acknowledged its recognition of and commitment to this right (Article 13 of the ICESCR) through its involvement in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The denial of education should not be used as a punitive measure by corrective or mental health care services.

Education is a multifaceted concept that targets and promotes opportunity, growth, wellbeing and awareness. One of JA’s aims is to educate prisoners and forensic patients, figures of authority and the community as to the education rights and benefits of those within the prison and mental health care systems. Through this, JA also seeks to increase the advocacy for and acknowledgement of these rights.

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Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016

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The recent announcement by the NSW Government that the National Australia Bank (NAB) and the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) have signed up as investors to their recent ‘social impact investment’ scheme must be met with further scrutiny.

Justice Action is concerned that attempts by the NSW government to distance itself from the direct implementation of criminal justice programs reduces their accountability as elected officials in providing effective services for its citizens. Seen in conjunction with recent efforts to privatise the prison system in its entirety, there is legitimate cause for further examination.

Justice Actions is also concerned at the inclusion of ACSO, a Melbourne based organisation. Motivated by a return on investment may potentially lead to the watering down of benchmarks regarding recidivism rates and the successful re-integration of prisoners. We believe that their advocacy role could be compromised as an investor in this scheme. The decision by the NSW Government not to publicly reveal the exact investment amounts and the potential returns for investors’ further obscures the relationships at the heart of this scheme.

As a criminal justice advocacy organisation, Justice Action is primarily concerned with ensuring that the rights and needs of those in Australian prisons and locked hospitals are met. Justice Action is not against attempts to innovate and provide better quality of services to these people. However, the absence of a truly independent authority assessing the success of these programs does not bode well for transparency and accountability within government programs.

Justice Action would like to see greater transparency within the program. The relationship between investors and the Government must be more clearly defined in the public sphere. The relevant expectations and obligations of both groups must also be clearly outlined. Importantly, considering the alarming statistics surrounding the criminal justice system in NSW, accountability for failure, and success, must be made clearer.

Justice Action is pleased that the NSW Government is taking prison reform seriously. However, as with any essential government service, due caution must be taken to ensure that the relevant parties are not adversely affected.

See the Sydney Morning Herald Article here 

 

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Justice Action
Trades Hall, Level 2, Suite 204
4 Goulburn Street
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

T 02 9283 0123
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E ja@justiceaction.org.au
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