The WA Inspector of Custodial Services, in a damning Report just released “The Digital Divide”, in which Western Australia was exposed as having the lowest rate of computers in cells of any state. Thirty-six computers service over 4,000 prisoners. In 2009 there were 167. This lack of computers severely affects the prisoners’ ability to survive upon release.
The Inspector said “Smart use of technology can…increase people’s opportunities to stay in contact with family and friends while in custody, making reintegration less confronting. With the right technology, access to legal, health and government services in custody can be increased. Web based systems and other technologies offer opportunities to increase program and education services in the custodial environment”.
The Inspector cited ‘fiscal pressures facing government’, however he failed to mention the consequence of not offering online counseling services in a bid to reduce the rates of domestic violence. This would result in 173 women and children unnecessarily experiencing domestic violence, and $38 million in unnecessary Government expenditure, each year. This compelling argument convinced the NSW to implement Computers in Cells, and it should be applied equally around the country.
The Inspector was also concerned about in-cell restriction to basic electronic legal information. ‘With the exception of Acacia Prison (16 computers) all other facilities have six or fewer working library computers which can be accessed for legal purposes’, and access to these computers is further restricted depending upon ‘…overcrowding… rostered times, or when parts of the prison are lock down as a result of incidents or short-staffing.’ The lack of evidence when it comes to regular discussion with the legal profession about communications and access of clients is concerning to say the least.
In the ACT Computers in Cells have been operating for 8 years and is safe, effective and cost efficient. See ACT Report. Education participation in the ACT prison stands at 76.3%, which is more than double the national rate of 31.6%. It saves money and makes us all safer with fewer victims. The cost of the computers infrastructure in a major prison only costs $230 000. This is equivalent to the cost of keeping two prisoners for one year.
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