Justice Action was asked to respond to the Federal Government's Prisoners Legal Service Review. The following is the JA Submission
Thank you for giving Justice Action the opportunity to make submissions in relation to the current review of the Prisoners Legal Service.
We offer the following comments and recommendations and would genuinely like the opportunity to make a further submission directed more at the present effectiveness of the PLS. In order for us to do that we ask that we be provided with a current overview of the present PLS workings including any specific annual/monthly reports.
These should cover the following areas:
The number of solicitors assigned both full and part time to prisoner related matters;
The prisons visited by PLS and the regularity of such visits;
The type and number of matters taken on by PLS for prisoners including advise, parole and other court hearings.
We would also request to be provided with copies of any notices sent out to prisons/prisoners inviting submissions and be given an indication of the response to such.
1. Stakeholder Meetings
Bi-monthly meetings with prisoner community stakeholders should be recommenced;
The PLS should initiate and maintain regular contact with Inmate Development Committees (IDC) in each prison keeping them informed of the services which can be offered by the PLS;
Minutes of all meetings should be disseminated to all interested parties;
2. Information/Fact Sheets
In conjunction with community prisoner representative groups and IDC Committees information/fact sheets and audio tapes should be developed and made available to all prisoners which would promote greater input from prisoners into their own cases regardless of whether or not they are represented by the PLS.
Examples could include such matters as Bail, Sentence Hearing, Appeal, Parole, Interstate Transfer, Deportation, Extradition, and Family Law, Fact Sheets. Such information should be provided in plain language and set out the relevant legislative and common law principles.
A Sentence Hearing Fact Sheet for example would include the need to detail the following information:
The general sentencing principles set out in the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 such as the benefits in respect to an early plea of guilty and pre-trial disclosure factors;
Personal History (ie. Family, education, employment, personal relationship, criminal, prison, drug & alcohol);
Circumstances Surrounding Offence(s);
Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances as set out under s21A Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999
Reflections On Offending Behaviour (impact on victims, family, community, self);
Proposed Pathway to Address Offending Behaviour (eg desire to undertake relevant counselling, therapeutic programs, further education etc);
Future Plans (ie. During any incarceration and upon release insofar as family, further education, employment, personal relationships and steps being put in place to ensure prospect of re-offending is negatived or minimised.
In respect to all such information packages, where appropriate, an emphasis should be placed on the importance of an offender refecting on the circumstances which led to offending, understanding and addressing those factors and provoking thought directed at the impact of offending on victims, families and the wider community.
3. Promoting PLS Profile
There should be a greater awareness of the PLS and its services in each prison. This should be brought about by:
regular meetings with community prisoner stakeholders and IDC committees;
ensuring each prison library is provided with current legal information, including legislature and other legal materials relevant to prisoner's legal and human rights;
PLS taking a more pro-active role in delivering its service by making submissions to inquiries and law reform bodies and running test cases in relation to such matters as prisoners having access to a needle exchange program; industrial/employment conditions and wages, prisoner voting rights and other human and legal rights issues generally;
PLS employing in its organisation ex-prisoners to ensure it remains in contact with its client base.
Greater funding should be made available to the PLS to run such matters as prisoner interstate/international transfer applications, extradition and deportation hearings and to enable other matters in this submission to be addressed.
5. PLS Representations
Insofar as practicable where the PLS make regular representations such as parole hearings, representatives at such should be rotated regularly and include other Commission practitioners so as to ensure that prisoner confidence in the service is maintained and such representatives are not seen to become complacent.
In areas where a service is provided, clients should be given an opportunity to provide feedback on that service and such feedback regularly assessed to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction is optimised.
7. Remote Area Service
In remote areas a roster of local private practitioners and or community legal centres should be established to ensure regular service at every prison;
8. Enhancing Client Service
PLS should establish a free telephone call service in each prison;
The PLS should ensure that every new reception inmate is provided with literature and or information regarding bail and appeal processes, PLS service and functions.
9. Mission Statement
The PLS should prepare a statement of its principles and goals - mission statement -and ensure its service is maintained in accordance with such principles. Such a statement should include and express:
The importance of prisoners being treated fairly without regard to race, religion, crime, sex, physical or mental impairments;
The importance of making available to prisoners information in regard to their legal and human rights;
The importance of bringing about statutory instruments relating to a minimum standard of rules for the treatment of prisoners;
The importance of reducing offending behaviour by bringing about positive change in prisoners through giving them a greater understanding and input into the legal processes.