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Analysis of Submissions to the NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice

Inquiry into the Security Classification and Management of Prisoners Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

There have been 26 submissions made to the Inquiry as of 11th November 2015.

Government Body Submissions

- Serious Offenders Review Council
- NSW Ombudsman
- Inspector of Custodial Services
- NSW Department of Justice
- Legal Aid NSW

Government submissions agreed on the need for rehabilitative programs for life prisoners, as part of the human right to development and as a tool for Corrective Services staff to manage the prison population.

Improved communication with victims was common ground between government submissions. The Inspector of Custodial Services makes special mention of the processes by which the Victims Register communicates with registered victims and states that it is not sufficient (pg. 12-15). Legal Aid NSW specifies that victims should be informed of procedures in classification, but should not have a role in influencing these decisions (pg. 6).

There was also a general consensus that Corrective Services and the Commissioner should act without external influence from sources such as the media. The Serious Offenders Review Council and Legal Aid NSW emphasise that prison is given as punishment; there should not be further punishment inside prison through manipulation of security classifications and exclusion from prison life and rehabilitative programs (pg. 1; pg. 6). The Inspector of Custodial Services (Inspector) emphasises the need for an objective classification system that would stabilize prison management (pg. 18-19). Legal Aid NSW supports this argument (pg. 5). 

The NSW Ombudsman stated that while the views of victims should be considered, they ‘should not carry disproportionate weight’ (pg. 2) and that all inmates should have the opportunity to make reparation to the community (pg. 3). Importantly, the NSW Ombudsman stated the importance of dealing with life prisoners individually and not as a class of persons (pg. 4).

Victims’ Group Submissions

- Enough is Enough Anti-violence Movement
- Homicide Victims’ Support Group
- Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL)
- Support After Murder Inc.

Major victims’ groups all agreed that rehabilitation programs should be accessible to all prisoners. Funding was the only qualification on their arguments. Notably, the Homicide Victims’ Support Group suggested that ‘rehabilitation be directed towards providing opportunities for ‘atonement’… and respecting Australia’s fundamental human rights obligations’. Rehabilitative programs, or other privilege schemes as suggested by Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL), were agreed by victims’ groups to be a tool to aid Corrective Services staff in their management of prisoners.

In reference to media and public interference in the role of Corrective Services and the Commissioner, Enough is Enough stated that ‘justice begins where revenge ends’.

All major victims’ groups agree that the information provided to victims about security classifications and prison life is sorely lacking, allowing misinformation to spread and creating the situation that occurred with Christine Simpson. The Homicide Victims’ Support Group specifically recommended that there be a regulation introduced that Corrective Services provide information to victims about the impact of classification on the day-to-day life of inmates.

The Homicide Victims’ Support Group and Support After Murder Inc. recommended that the Victims’ Register be an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ service, as this would ensure victims are engaged soon after the crime and can be better managed as a representative group within society.

The submission of Support After Murder Inc. stated that victims should be consulted and involved regarding changes in classification of life prisoners. Support After Murder Inc. makes the comment that more employees are needed in the Victims Register Department. While not specifically mentioned by all victims’ submissions, increased funding to victims’ organisations would ensure the improved communication to victims that is an priority agreed upon in all submissions.  The Homicide Victims’ Support Group emphasises that its role is to support the victim and recommends expansion of financial and psychological assistance available to victims.

**While compensation schemes form an important element of victim support, increased funding to services for victims would perhaps be more beneficial to victims than compensation, especially in restorative justice terms.**

Prisoner Submissions

- Submission No 2 Name Suppressed
- Submission No 4 Name Suppressed
- Submission No 25 Name Suppressed

Prisoner submissions all acknowledge the role of the media in community understanding of imprisonment and believe that the media has skewed public opinion of prisons. It is also mentioned that living in prison without hope creates room for violent extremism. Many submissions assert that being in prison is the punishment dictated by the judge at their sentencing hearing and that restrictions inside prison add further punishment, making prison life almost unbearable.

Prisoner submissions assert that rehabilitative programs are central to their wellbeing in prison and tense situations between staff and inmates could be relieved if incentives were provided for good behaviour. Common amongst prisoner submissions is the belief that Corrective Services should act independently of external influences such as the media, and that victims should have no role in determining the treatment of prisoners.

Non-Government Organisation Submissions

- Law Society of NSW
- Community Justice Coalition
- Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN)
- Justice Action

Non-government organisation (NGO) submissions to the Inquiry agree that prisoners should have access to rehabilitative programs.

The Law Society of NSW recommends that security classifications be reformed to increase stability. All NGO submissions agree that victims should not influence classification of prisoners. The Law Society of NSW adds that victims ‘have the right to access information which informs them and supports them’ (pg. 2). The Community Justice Coalition (CJC) specifically mentions human rights law and states that ill treatment of prisoners constitutes torture (pg. 2). The CJC also emphasises the need for impartiality and objectivity in prison management (pg. 4).

The Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN) submits that victims should not have a role in sentencing or classifications, and instead supports principles of restorative justice to build an inclusive society.

Others

- Submission No 3 Name Suppressed (retired nursing sister)
- Robert Shaw Consulting
- Mr. Eric Snowball
- Dr. Martin Bibby (philosopher)
- Rev Colin Sheehan (Corrective Services Chaplain)
- Ms. Irina Dunn (Director of Australian Writers’ Network)
- Submission No 18 Name Suppressed
- Dr. Serena Wright (criminology researcher)

The remaining submissions from members of the public agree with all other submissions, that victims need more support to keep them properly informed. Like other submissions, they concur that prisoners should have access to rehabilitative programs. Submissions all mention the idea that hope is necessary to support life prisoners and that while victims need to be supported, they or the media should not affect prison management.

Dr. Serena Wright expresses grave concern that a single Minister can influence Corrective Services matters on the basis of ‘emotive…public sentiments’. Dr. Wright incorporates the notion that rehabilitative programs offer ‘hope and opportunities for engagement that act to support compliant and legitimate behaviour’. Reverend Colin Sheehan makes particular mention that retributive justice is primarily negative and emphasises that the current system is meant to be objective. 

 

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