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RETURN CHRISTMAS DAY VISITS TO FAMILIES OF PRISONERS!
"They’ve killed Santa and the Easter bunny.  Lucky they can’t get at God"  Those words on a prisoner's card perfectly express the vindictiveness of the system. Media release

 

Background
Over 2,700 children and family members each year for 16 years have been able to visit jailed loved ones on Christmas Day until Corrective Services banned the visits last year.

On 18 November this year, Corrective Services Chaplain, Rev Rod Moore, told us that the visits would be returned.  On 1 December he advised us that for some reason, which has still not been explained, the Commissioner had reversed the decision.  That means for the second time in 17 years no visits will be permitted to prisoners on Christmas Day.

Whatever the reason for the change in heart, around 3000 children, mothers, fathers, wives and husbands and friends of prisoners will suffer the consequences of this decision. Last year we campaigned strongly for the return of these visits.  We had strong media support.

This year we are continuing our campaign - we have strong support from church groups.   Church groups have written to Commissioner Woodham asking for the visits to be returned.  Bishop Manning from the Diocese of Parramatta has joined the growing chorus of concern, as has the Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes.

Christmas Day is traditionally a day for families to come together in a spirit of love, fellowship and forgiveness.  It celebrates a day when the most important family in the Christian world, first came together.

We seek your assistance in joining with us to ask Commissioner Woodham to return these critically important visits. He can be contacted:

By email – (through his executive officer) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
By mail - NSW Department of Corrective Services, GPO Box 31, Sydney NSW 2001
By fax - 8346 1205

We would also be very grateful if you would send us a copy of anything you send him so that we can acknowledge your support.

We say that in a prisons context, there is no more important day in the year for prisoners and their families to physically see and hold each other.

Families are the key

Our society is based on the family unit.  For most people, it is the single most important institution in their lives.  It provides support in times of trouble.  For people in our prisons it is the most likely source of strength to not just help them through their time in jail but also to help them reintegrate into our community on their release.

Even Corrective Services recognises this when they state on their website:

‘Visits to inmates in New South Wales correctional centres are important for maintaining strong family relationships.  They also assist in making it easier for people to readjust to life in the community when they are released.’

We say the most important day for this to occur is Christmas Day.  Up until last year when visits were banned in NSW prisons, for 16 years over 2,700 people agreed by visiting their loved ones in jail each year on this day.

The recidivism rate in NSW is a shocking 43.7% - the highest in the country.  We agree with Corrective Services about the significance of the family in helping prisoners readjust to life on release.  We would have thought Christmas Day, which promotes the family ethos, would be the ideal day to encourage visits with a view to reducing this figure.

Children matter

The magic of Christmas is the province of children.  Much of that magic comes about through the actions of parents.  When a parent is missing, the magic is not the same.  To stop Christmas Day visits is to materially impact on the happiness of the child on one of their most important days of the year.

Whether Corrective Services like it or not, children are part of the prison system from the day a parent is jailed.  The relationship between a child and their jailed parent remains critical and is even encouraged by the United Nations.  The UN imposes an obligation on state authorities to ensure that a child’s contact with their imprisoned parents is possible (Article 2(2) its Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Just as importantly, the NSW Standing Committee on Law and Justice in their 1999 report on prisons emphasised the role the justice system could play to help maintain family ties. 

‘Any serious attempt at reducing recidivism must consider the importance of preserving links between prisoners and their partners and children.  This is not only to reduce the chances of the prisoner re-offending: it is to prevent the cycle of offending being repeated in the life of the child.’ (at page 146)

To stop a child from seeing a parent on Christmas Day does not just punish the parent – it also punishes the child, not to mention the other parent.  Corrective Services needs to recognise and address the additional and significant pain their decision causes.

Our Solution

Justice Action calls on Commissioner Woodham to make Christmas Day a feature event in the Corrective Services calendar – a day for families as much as for prisoners – a day which is Corrective Services’ gift to the community.

Prisons are the saddest places in our community.  It is a wonderful opportunity for just one day of the year, to make them places full of joy and happiness for families.
It’s so important and yet so easy to do, by returning the visits and doing such things as:

•    allowing prisoners to decorate visiting areas with their own and donated decorations;

•    allowing Father Christmas to be with children visiting a parent;

•    encouraging carols to be sung and Christmas music to be played in the visits areas; and

•    providing games and special treats for the visiting children.

We ask for your support in this very important issue.  Please contact the Commissioner at any of the addresses above to express your concerns.  Don’t forget to send us a copy of your correspondence so that we can acknowledge your contribution.

December 2008

 

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Justice Action
Suite 204, 4 Goulburn Street
Sydney NSW Australia
Telephone: 02 9283 0123
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