Current Campaigns

Current Campaigns


Justice Action proposes and agitates for change in social justice policies. To achieve change we focus, analyse and publish our views as the basis for action. Report 2009 Report 2008-9 Also below is a list of our campaigns. Each brief summarises a position paper often elsewhere on the website.

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Nordic Prisons: A Model for Australia

'Chalk and Cheese' compares the development of the prison system in Norway with the current system in this country. The Community Justice Coalition launched the book on the 24th of November 2017. It demonstrates how the Norwegian experience can be used as a model for the transformation of prison systems to deliver more positive results and a safer community. 

The Norwegian prison system in the 1980s closely resembled that of Australia’s, narrowly focused on retributive justice. Following a number of incidents, Norway introduced significant reforms prioritising prisoner rehabilitation. These reforms have proved successful and have significantly reduced the recidivism rate to one of the lowest in the world at 20%. We believe Australia is capable of doing the same.

The book explains that Norwegian prisons between the 1980s and early 1990s relied on incarceration and harsh punishment as a deterrent. This model propagated psychiatric problems, heightened recidivism rates, and resulted in several riots, a record-high number of escapees, and the deaths of two prison officers. In 2008, the Norwegian government formed an Inquiry and published a White Paper emphasising rehabilitation and community-based sentences. Since then, Norway’s prisons have radically transformed to ensure prisoners have the skills they require to adapt to society upon release. 



To view the book click below: 

 Chalk and Cheese: Australian vs. Norwegian Prisons

Failures of Imprisonment



30/10/2017 Prison population to reach new records despite slowing growth
11/10/2017 Prison alternative leads to sharp drop in reoffending

03/05/2017 NSW Auditor: 75% Prisoners without Programs
31/01/2017 NSW Exposed In Australian Government Report
06/09/2016 "Former Inspector attacks prison building"

'The huge expenditure of public funds, however, is contrary to a large body of evidence showing that prisons are an ineffective mechanism to reducing offending in the community – it amounts to double that spent on building new schools, yet recidivism in NSW is the worst of all states.Click on the link above to learn more.

Prisons have failed to meet almost all objectives of the criminal justice system. Their role as a correctional service has adversely affected the lives of prisoners, their families and the wider community. In NSW, although there was a reported decrease in crime rates, a 7% increase in prison population was noted; highlighting the failure of imprisonment as an effective mechanism of social control.

Additionally, contrary to the NSW Department's goal of reducing adult rates of reoffending by 5% by 2019, the rate of adult re-offending has worsened. The NSW Auditor-General's Report 'Law and Order' (Volume Seven Part One 2015, p. 7) found a 35.9% rate of recidivism within one year of release in 31 December 2013. This rate of re-offending notably increased to 45.8% by 30 June 2014, within two years of release. These rates demonstrate an upward trend in adult re-offending - a clear indication that the prison system is not working.

Clearly, there is a strain on prison infrastructure and services that has resulted in deteriorating prisoner health conditions and rising incidents of self-harm. As the inmate - parole officer ratio is increasing, the attempt to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society has been more difficult. Unfortunately, overcrowding of prisons means a reduced access to adequate support, education and opportunities. The NSW prison system houses an average of three inmates per cell and has over fifty inmates sharing a phone (See: Inspector of Custodial Services Report- Full House 2015).

According to Auditor-General Tony Whitfield, overcrowding has undermined confidence in the justice system and the effectiveness of prisons. His report ‘Performance Frameworks in Custodial Centre Operations' (2016) outlines the ineffectiveness of CSNSWs performance framework, specifying the lack of communication of organisational key performance indicators (KPIs) cascaded to public correctional centres. As a result CSNSW could not assess their performance('Performance Frameworks in Custodial Centre Operations' Media Release, 3 March 2016). In response, a reform project is being introduced that requires public prisons to take accountability like private prisons through meeting and reporting their performance. The project is designed so that rates of recidivism are reduced, community protection is increased, and prison standards are lifted. 

Currently, the average Australian prisoner costs $100 000 per year, a figure which is expected to rise. $60 million is also spent on keeping prisoners on remand ("Court backlog costing $60m as jails overflow", SMH, 24 November, 2015). In 2014-15, $3.4 billion was invested into prison systems. Justice Action suggests that these funds could be used more effectively in the establishment of post-release programs, public housing and rehabilitation services for prisoners. The government must seek alternatives to imprisonment that will reduce the strain on economic and social resources, as the high cost of imprisonment cannot be sustained

In addition, a recent report suggests that bail is being refused and longer sentences are being handed down to benefit commercial interest by establishing more prisons and filling them up ('Prisons trap our money along with crooks', SMH, 17 February, 2016).

Imprisonment is not contributing to the wellbeing of the community as a whole. See the papers "Prisons Cause Crime""Alternatives to imprisonment" . Also see our paper on Prisons are part of the Community.



Detailed inquiries into the NSW prison system and supporting studies say the same thing with almost monotonous regularity; prison does not work in terms of its stated objectives, and the use of imprisonment as a sentence should be scaled down. Despite these findings and the consideration of viable, sustainable alternatives to imprisonment, the government continues to pursue policing, sentencing and prison policies, which have led to inflation of the prison population and overcrowding of jails. History shows that every new jail built will be filled, and overcrowding will quickly reoccur. E.g. The remand centre at Silverwater, the largest prison in NSW, was filled within three months of opening.

Listed below are summaries of the main findings of some important prison inquiries. In addition, here are some relevant issues in prison reform:

  1. There is no technical policy fix to the problems of policing, sentencing and prisoners. Human solutions must be looked for and found.
  2. Sentencing policy must take account of Australia’s human rights commitments, which includes a commitment to the essential aim of the prison as ‘reformation and social rehabilitation’ (ICCPR Article 10(3)). Bail law must also be consistent with Australia’s human rights commitments and this would involve removing the presumptions against bail for several categories of offence (s.8A and s.9 of the Bail Act 1978).
  3. The collective wisdom of all past inquiries and studies must be respected. Prison has failed its stated objectives, so alternative sanctions must be developed and the use of prisons must be scaled back. Prison must not be regarded as synonymous with sentencing.
  4. Prison sentences, in general and in specific cases, must therefore be justified by some real argument of public policy, and not assumed as the default penalty. The question must therefore be, not ‘what is the alternative to prison?’, but ‘why commit to prison?’.
  5. The building of new prisons is entirely regressive and can only expand the total prisoner population, at great financial and social cost. Prison numbers must be capped, and then reduced. There must be a moratorium on the building of any new prison, and a ceiling must be placed on the Corrective Services budget. No real reform requires any greater financial commitment.
  6. A declining prison population is the only acceptable goal. Therefore, prison policy must be integrated with policing and sentencing policy. This in turn requires a commitment to intervene in the law and order culture.
  7. The decision to build a new women’s facility should be subject to more rigorous scrutiny in light of the possible alternatives.
  8. Some form of discountable sentence (e.g. by remissions) must replace the rigid formula of the Sentencing Act 1989. The Act is problematic because no sentencing judge or magistrate has full wisdom or foresight, prison managers value remissions, and incentives for prisoners coincide with the only sensible public policy, which is to minimise the use of prison.
  9. Community corrections, and sanctions such as community service orders that encourage offender responsibility rather than repress it, must be developed and expanded.
  10. Policing practices have an enormous impact on the prison population, and most public policing is aimed at young people. Tolerant policing is required in its own right, but also as a means of finding human solutions and minimising formal legal interventions.
  11. Because the Aboriginal population is overrepresented in prisons, the general reduction of prison numbers is of crucial importance to decrease Aboriginal imprisonment rates, and deaths in custody.

Nagle Royal Commission, 1978

The Nagle Royal Commission into NSW Prisons came after agitation by prisoners and campaigns by many, including the late Labor MP George Petersen. The report by Justice John Nagle proposed and led to these changes:

  1.  A new ethos which held that prison was a poor sanction in terms of its stated aims, and was to be a last resort of sentencing.
    1. Exposure and elimination of systematic bashings, especially at Grafton Jail.
    2. The immediate closure of Katingal (which Nagle called an electronic zoo).
    3. A general upgrading of prison conditions, including the introduction of contact visits and phone calls, and recognition of some other minimum conditions.
    4. A recognition that prisoners should be listened to, and have committees as well as access to complaints mechanisms.
  2. A new regime under Commissioner Tony Vinson (1979-81), which would help bring about many of the reforms proposed by Nagle. 

The principal policy recommendation of the Nagle report (No. 7) was that ‘loss of liberty is the extent of punishment… a prisoner should be treated justly and humanely ... [and] Imprisonment should be a last resort and those imprisoned should be kept in the lowest appropriate security’.

The Nagle Report in Appendix H has a brief history of the NSW prison system and prison policy from 1788-1967, apart from its own review of events of the 1970.
J. F. Nagle (1978) Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons, Vol 1, 2 & 3, Government Printer, Sydney, April.

NSW Women in Prison Task Force, 1985

This committee, chaired by Ann Symonds MLC, made 287 recommendations related to women in prison. The report documented the women’s prison population at that time, and affirmed Nagle’s recommendation that prison be used as a sanction of last resort. It noted that 78% of women had a drug or alcohol related addiction, and that 84% had been in prison before. It noted that women in NSW were far more likely than those from most other states (eg. Victoria) to be:

  1. held in prison on remand
  2. held on remand for more than three months
  3. receiving longer prison sentences
  4. imprisoned for drug possession or use

At a time when the NSW women’s prison population was only around 150, the report urged the Government to take immediate action to reduce the imprisonment rate of women in this state (p.40). In the mid 1990s, Corrective Services took up one of the Task Force’s recommendations, by creating the first Transitional Centre for Women (at Parramatta) - a minimum security facility which allowed women to keep their children, and to work in the community, much like a half-way house. The Transitional Centre is one of NSW Corrective Services’ few success stories in recent times.

NSW Women in Prison Task Force (1985) NSW Parliament, Sydney.

Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, 1987-1991

The principal finding of this Royal Commission was that Aboriginal people died in custody in large numbers because they were in jail in such large numbers (over-represented by a factor of 10-20). There were many recommendations designed to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal people in custody, including:

  1. A series of recommendations (79-91) designed for diversion from police custody, including police practice of arrest being the sanction of last resort (87) and recognising in practice the entitlement to bail (89).
  2. A series of recommendations (92-121) to hold imprisonment as a last resort, including legislation to enforce prison as the last resort. 
  3. A series of recommendations (62, 234-245) called Breaking the cycle: Aboriginal Youth, which was aimed at keeping young people out of formal legal processes and institutions (consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989).

Note: that when jail numbers as a whole rise, the number of Aboriginal prisoners (being an overrepresented group) rose even more. 

Elliott Johnston (1991) National Report: Overview and Recommendations, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, AGPS, Canberra

The Combined Churches Report, 1994

An inter-church committee reviewed and reinforced an earlier report by the Churches, called Prison: The Last Resort (1988). It called for a bipartisan approach to prison policy, provided it addresses the main issues. The committee recommended (7) that overcrowding be reduced and other conditions be addressed. It also called for (8) the immediate implementation of measures that reduce the numbers of Aboriginal people in prison as referred to by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Inter Church Steering Committee on Prison Reform (1994) Prison - not yet the last resort: a review of the NSW penal system.

Rand Corp on Mandatory Minimums, 1997

Studies in the US have shown that mandatory minimum sentences don’t work. A 1997 study by the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Centre demonstrated that mandatory minimum sentences were ‘throwing away taxpayers’ money’. Prison was not only an ineffective sanction against the drug trade, it was by far the most expensive. The think tank study showed that, if $1 million MORE in public funds were spent on each drug strategy over 15 years,

  1. mandatory minimums would reduce national cocaine consumption by 13 kilograms
  2. conventional law enforcement would cut it by 27 kilograms, and
  3. treatment of heavy drug users would slash it by more than 100 kilograms

Conventional law enforcement (such as arrests, confiscations, prosecutions and standard prison terms) would eliminate 70% more crimes than mandatory minimums (which impose much higher average sentences).

However, treatment of heavy users would reduce about 10 times more serious crime against people and property than conventional law enforcement and 15 times more than mandatory minimums, even though an average of only 13% of those receiving treatment kick their drug habits. ‘Mandatory sentences are counterproductive ... they are more harmful to the community than helpful’, the study group said.

Jonathan P. Caulkins, C. Peter Rydell, William Schwabe & James R. Chisea (1997) Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: throwing away the key or the taxpayers money?, Rand Documents, www.rand.org.

NSW Parliamentary Committee on Prisons, 2000

This cross-party committee found that prison policy should ‘be part of an integrated approach to reducing crime and premised on the principle that imprisonment should only be a measure of last resort’. While the committee was not unanimous on the need for a new jail at Windsor, it did agree that:
‘the decision to build a new women’s facility should be subject to more rigorous scrutiny in light of the possible alternatives, the recent drug court results and the likely and actual impact of the Crimes (SENTENCING PROCEDURE) Act 1999. Such scrutiny should include an analysis of the cost, both capital and recurrent, of the new facilities against effective alternative means of dealing with the increased population.’ (7.45)
‘This cost-benefit analysis should then be used by the Government to determine whether the building of a new jail should proceed. The committee recommended that the review process should include independent persons such as: the Inspector General for Prisons, representatives of Treasury, groups representing women, and at least one academic with [relevant] research experience’ (7.46).

The committee was unanimous that:

"The Government should be working towards a reduction in the prisoner population and should be taking all reasonable measures to achieve that end. The Committee considers that a reduction is achievable through such measures as the recommendations contained in this report, particularly those relating to the establishment of bail hostels, probation hostels, drug treatment programs in the community and the expansion of transitional centres."

There were hopes that the drug court program, the court liaison program (designed to divert offenders with a mental illness) and the recent changes to sentencing law (requiring reasons for small prison sentences) would help in this process (7.48). To reinforce a commitment to reducing prison numbers, the Committee called for a moratorium on the number of prison beds for women: ‘The Committee considers that there should be a freeze on the number of prison beds for remand and sentenced female inmates, and that any new jail should only replace existing prisoner accommodation.’ (7.50-51).
This was designed to prevent the expansion of the prison system.

  • NSW Parliament (2000) Legislative Council Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population, Sydney.

    16th March 2014: Prison population explosion could lead to two new jails per year
    - Elliott Johnston (1991) National Report: Overview and Recommendations, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, AGPS, Canberra
    - Inter Church Steering Committee on Prison Reform (1994) Prison - not yet the last resort: a review of the NSW penal system
    - J. F. Nagle (1978) Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons, Vol 1, 2 & 3, Government Printer, Sydney, April
    - Jonathan P. Caulkins, C. Peter Rydell, William Schwabe & James R. Chisea (1997) Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: throwing away the key or the taxpayers money?, Rand Documents, www.rand.org
    NSW Parliament (2000) Legislative Council Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population, Sydney.Roman Tomasic & Ian Dobinson (1979) The Failure of Imprisonment
    - Roman Tomasic & Ian Dobinson (1979) The Failure of Imprisonment
    - Vivienne Stern (1998) Imprisonment in the World: a Sin Against the Future Written by Tim Anderson for Stop the Womens Jail Anti-Prisons Resource Kit Published June 2001 by Justice Action Ph: (02) 9281 5100

[1]Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4510.0 Recorded Crime – Victims Australia, 2014, <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4510.0~2014~Main%20Features~Victims%20of%20Crime,%20Australia~4@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4510.0~2014~Main%20Features~Victims%20of%20Crime,%20Australia~4>.
[2]Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4517.0 Prisoners in Australia, 2015, <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4517.0@.nsf/mf/4517.0>.  
[3] Sarah Kimmorley, Australia put more people in jail than ever before in 2015 and its costing taxpayers 2.6 billion, Business Insider Australia, <http://www.businessinsider.com.au/australia-put-more-people-in-jail-than-ever-before-in-2015-and-its-costing-taxpayers-2-6-billion-2015-6>. 



Prisoner Strike


"Prisoners of NSW have asked Justice Action to coordinate a statewide strike in response to a series of attacks. Rights to privacy, clean air, procedural fairness before punishment, education, judicial certainty, health, hope and recovery are being trampled without resistance. We have continually put these issues to government but have been treated with contempt. The documents are on our website. Prisoners say: 'We are citizens not slaves. We say No!’ The strike was launched at a news conference in Trades Hall at 12 noon, Thursday August 6”.

Latest News:

[Gatton Star] Big tobacco money linked to NSW prison smoking ban 13 Aug 2015 
[Herald Sun] NSW inmates to swap ciggies for patches Aug 10 2015 
[Southern Cross] Cigarette ban will only lead to tension Aug 10 2015 
[Daily Telegraph] Riot staff prepared as smoke ban hits Aug 10 2015 
[The Age] NSW prison officers exempt from prison smoking ban as inmates forced to quit Aug 9 2015 
[Echo News] Prisoners urged to strike over smoking ban and overcrowding Aug 9 2015 
[Sunday Telegraph]Rolling in tobacco as jail smoke ban looms Aug 9 2015 
[Sunday Telegraph]Butt Out of Prison Rules by Miranda Devine Aug 9 2015


Launch Event Video
Launch Event Photos

"The Inspector of Custodial Services John Paget warned Minister for Corrections David Elliott that breaches of health regulations and overcrowding in cells for the longest period in Australia could lead to riots.  He said that conditions 'denied them a modicum of dignity and humanity’. With the smoking ban he said tensions could become ‘intolerable’. His role to inspect the secret places of punishment is enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture”. 

"The Government has refused to acknowledge its failings, blamed staff, and has brought out the Immediate Action Teams. It has ignored its obligations under OPCAT and the Inspector is being replaced. The E-cigs used in UK prisons to respect nicotine dependency have been ignored.”.  

"Justice Action accepts responsibility to help coordinate prisoners’ responses. We know from experience that riots don’t bring long term changes but allow armed bullies to vilify and brutally degrade defenceless, desperate people. After considerable consultation, without any external assistance being offered, we declare the beginning of the Prisoners Strike”.  

"It will be a 'Smart Strike', disciplined, building solidarity and committed to run over a substantial period. The rules are that there will be no violence, no riots, no martyrs, no hunger strikes, no charges and no services. There will be a gradual shutdown of all prison industries including food services. Prison property will not be protected. Prisoners will become sick with nicotine withdrawal and other ailments. Breaches of the rules will be registered and dealt with after the strike has ended”. 

Sickness Effects of Tobacco Ban Document Page

"Strike progress reports, successes and statements from prisons will be collated from the iExpress website and published.  This will only end with respectful guidelines for mutual obligations where our citizens get support to improve rather than be crushed in destructive isolation”. Please send reports to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inspector's Report

Smoking Ban - ignoring UK e-cig solution

Letter to Minister April 28 2015

2 Responses from Minister  May 21 2015

                                              May 19 2015

Strategy Paper August 11 2011

Media Release August 10 2011

Related News
[ABC News] 1200 ABC New by Melinda Hayter Aug 6 2015
[AM] Prisoners to go on strike in NSW, advocacy group claims   (Audio Recording)
[ABC Report] NSW inmmates urged to strike to protest overcrowding; Prison officials say call for action 'reprehensible' Aug 6 2015 
[ABC Report]NSW jails prepare for riots ahead of smoking ban next week Aug 6 2015 
[ABC Report] Prisoners to go on strike in NSW, advocacy group claims Aug 6 2015 
[Letter to the Member of Parliament] Prisoners Strike Announcement  August 5 2015

Justice Reform Initiatives





Justice Action has prepared a package of four research papers to change the culture of imprisonment. They represent a new paradigm of prisoner responsibility and empowerment dealing with the issues of recidivism and safe resettlement in the community. They propose that time in prison becomes a period of active development before release, and the rhetoric of corrective services becomes a reality rather than its accepted failure.

The draft papers follow international consultation with stakeholders and experts in the field. They have been personally distributed to almost all jurisdictions in the English-speaking world. We call on prison policy makers and administrators to respond to the ideas with the same constructive spirit that has been offered. 

The prison culture conditions people to become submissive waiting for time to pass. There is little opportunity or encouragement to change. For any cultural and personal change it is necessary to have an active strategy engaging prisoners, and constructively using the long periods they spend in their cells. These ideas are a fresh way for them to accept responsibility for their lives, and for the community to get the benefits.  

Justice Action wants collaborative relationships with jurisdictions and the practical implementation of the recommendations, further research and amendment. The four papers can be accessed by the following links:

1. Restorative Justice

This research paper challenges the critical view of Restorative Justice currently portrayed in the media. We believe in its merits as a community-focused response to crime, which emphasises building social cohesion and reducing re-offending by encouraging prisoners to take responsibility for the effects of their behaviour. This paper analyses the effectiveness and rationale of the restorative justice system... read more.. 

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

With the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), re-offending rates can drop by up to one third. The current national and international view is that such programs are the most successful and cost-effective means of rehabilitation. However, in practice CBT is under-utilised, and its scope is restricted to the final stage of a sentence. This paper proposes an on-going as well as community-based method for implementing CBT, providing positive and long-term effects… read more.

3. Remission

In response to the passivity of prisoners awaiting the expiration of their prison term, we have developed a research paper on Remission – a system that uses reductions in prison sentences as an incentive for good behaviour and self-improvement within prisons. By allowing prisoners to have some control of their own future, they develop a sense of responsibility and are given an incentive to serve their sentence productively with a mindset of moving forward. This paper analyses its use and success…read more.

4. Computers in Cells

Education is proven to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Computers in cells provide prisoners with the ability to participate in training and educational programs, as opposed to the inactivity and boredom generated by access to limited technology such as television. This paper has been adopted internationally but its implementation has been slow, despite agreement on all sides of politics that it is correct and overdue…read more.

Consultation: Prisoners Strike

Media release: Prisoners Strike Consultation – International Prison Justice Day

August 10, 2011

"Justice Action announced today, August 10, International Prison Justice Day the launch of a consultation for a prisoners strike possibly extending to mental health patients, and others held in detention" said Justice Action Coordinator Brett Collins.

"Strikes by powerless people held in custody are the ultimate weapon available to them. They are a cry of desperation and have a long history of anguish and pain. Justice Action has been asked by detainees for many years to coordinate such an action in their fight to being recognised as people with human rights and dignity. Prisoners and their families are frustrated by the lies and contempt. The question is raised: 'Have governments lost their moral authority to imprison their citizens?'" said Mr Collins.

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International Prison Justice Day

International Prisoners’ Justice Day August 10, marks the anniversary of the 1974 death of Eddie Nalon, a prisoner who bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison, Canada, when the emergency call button in his cell failed to work.

An inquest later found that the call button in that unit had been deactivated by the guards. The following year prisoners at Millhaven marked the anniversary of Eddie’s death by fasting and refusing to work. By May, 1976, the call buttons had not yet been repaired. Bobby Landers was the next to die in one of those cells. With no way to call for help, all he could do was scribble a note that described the symptoms of a heart attack.

What started as a one-time event behind the walls of Millhaven Prison has become an international day of solidarity.

August 10 has been the day officially set aside for prisoners and their supporters to honour the memory of those who have died unnatural deaths in prison and express solidarity with the millions of people on the inside of prisons who are demanding changes to a criminal justice system that dehumanizes and brutalizes them.

In 1997 a group celebrating the day handing out balloons and gifts to visitors entering the new MRRC 900 prisoner jail, NSW, Australia were assaulted by prison officers. The officers had two dogs, almost pushed over a man with a 20 month baby and strangled a 17 year old woman with a camera strap. Police refused to charge the officers. However the next year an even larger support group was permitted to remain there without interference.


What’s happening in Canada for International Prisoners' Justice Day 2011?

International Prisoners' Justice Day was recognised this year in Trout Lake, Canada, with a rally organized by the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee. Speakers included ex-prisoners and prisoners’ rights activists.

‘The Word is Out’ is a news service that provides a link between women in prison and the community.  It features writing & artwork from women in prison and information pertaining to the changing realities of prison and the community. ‘The Word is Out’ is distributed free of charge to women in prison and by subscription in the community and published by Joint Effort and Strength In Sisterhood. This year ‘The Word is Out’ held an International Prisoners' Justice Day benefit with musical performances, readings by activists, novelists and film makers.

'Stark Raven' is a radio program based in Vancouver which takes a close look at prisons and the Psychiatric Survivor Movement. On International Prisoners' Justice Day they broadcasted live from the Vancouver Prisoners' Justice Day Memorial Rally.

You can find out more at www.prisonjustice.ca


Open Prison Project

“Unfortunately, society in general and prison authorities, in particular, treat prisoners as outcastes”
(The Dalai Lama, 1999)

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Stop Building New Prisons

The Construction of More Prisons in Australia

Historical Context:
Many prisons in Australia were built by convict labour in the 1800s. During the 1990s various state governments in Australia engaged private sector correctional corporations to build and operate prisons whilst several older government run institutions were decommissioned. Operation of federal detention centres was also privatised at a time when a large influx of illegal immigrants began to arrive in Australia.

Read more

Miriam Merton Mental Hospital Death Inquiry Media Release 22nd December 2017

Whitewash Merten Death Mental Report

Media Release: Friday December 22nd 2017


The Review by the Chief Psychiatrist following the death of patient Miriam Merten at Lismore Hospital, made very serious criticisms of the NSW Mental Health System, but didn’t make a single recommendation that would prevent its reoccurrence. The 19 Recommendations missed the point entirely, just offering more money without changing any of the dynamics. That is unsurprising as the problems are deep-seated cultural ones, and the so called independent review is by insiders who are part of the system” said Justice Action Coordinator Brett Collins.

“The Review agreed that the NSW Mental Health System culture lacked compassion and humanity (p7) or real interest in the individual beyond risk management (p22). The System used coercive compliance, had no internal oversight even after the Merten death (p29), lacked guidelines, had little evidence of engagement with consumers and carers (p35), little involvement in care plans (p.36), had no examples of the necessary leadership required to give high-quality compassionate care (p24). The Review said that peer worker support was very limited with rare access despite being a vital resource to lessen seclusion and restraint (p33)” said mental health advocate Douglas Holmes.

“Miriam Merten’s death provided a window into the closed system due to the objective CCTV evidence and media exposure on the Telegraph’s front page and Channel 7 news. The Minister for Mental Health Tanya Davies in announcing the Inquiry on May 12 said that ‘she closed her eyes because the vision was too horrible’. Otherwise the Coroner and everyone else would have moved on, as they had done since 2014 when she died” said Mr Collins.

“Ongoing objective accountability, removal of legislative protections such as s.195 MH Act, computers and phones in seclusion areas, alternatives to forced treatment, and independent consumer advocacy with mandated peer worker roles are all essential. These interventions cost nothing while returning power to the person at the centre of the concern rather than remaining with callous staff and indifferent managers. We owe that to our own self-respect as well as to future distressed and vulnerable Miriam Mertens” said Mr Holmes.

Mental Health Crises

Mental Health Crises: Proposal for Intervention


A paper presented at CJC & ICJA’s ‘BEDLAM: A hypothetical journey through the Justice and Mental Health Systems’ Held on 29 September 2012

This leaflet highlights problem areas of the current Criminal Justice and Mental Health systems and raises possible solutions for the same.

In a situation when a person feels disturbed or others feel disturbed by a person’s behaviour, it is most often handled by social processes in the person’s immediate community. At times, help is requested from outside organizations. The starkest failures have occurred after referral to police.

History of Police Failures

Ø    Adam Salter, a mentally ill man armed with a knife that he was using to self-harm, was shot dead by police outside his home (Lakemba, 2009).

Ø    Elijah Holcombe, a young mentally ill man, was shot and killed by police after a tragic series of events in which he believed he was being followed by police (Armidale, 2009).

Ø    Roni Levi was shot dead after a mental breakdown in which he was armed with a knife (Bondi Beach, 1997).

Ø    Tyler Cassidy, a fifteen-year-old thought to be mentally ill, was killed by police because of his ‘erratic’ behaviour (Victoria, 2008).

Ø    Daniel Rolph was shot dead after stabbing a police officer during a manic episode, despite having a long history with police who were aware of his mental illness (Perth, 2007).

Ø    Amanda Jones was the lucky survivor of a police shooting that occurred after she threatened a police officer with a knife (Perth, 2011).

Ø    Jason Chapman, highly agitated and mentally ill, had three shots fired at him by two police officers when he came at them with a knife. No police at the scene contacted the Critical Incident Response Team. It is suggested, “police members at that time may not have been aware of the unit's existence” (Yarraville, 2004).

These people were loved and needed help, care and patient understanding. Instead, they were killed by armed police, trying to urgently control a situation without any useful training. Unfortunately, the list continues without any cultural change. Why?

Where did compassion go? When did mentally ill persons become ‘others’?

The answers lie in the powerlessness of consumers within the health process, and particularly the alienation of those with mental health problems. The lived experience of mental illness is not awarded adequate respect and is not treated as a community skill for assisting others.

The allegations of corruption and the proposals for independent consumer representation contained in the “OUR PICK” Report have been ignored. However, the “Changing the Driver” Report, which analysed the principle of consumer-controlled funding, has been adopted by the Productivity Commission in its National Disability Insurance Scheme. Choice and a market are essential for a fair delivery of health services. It is essential that the views of mentally ill persons be valued by determining their own treatment.

Is there any police response so far?

There has been police recognition of a need to restructure methods and train police to deal with mentally ill persons. This was shown in Victoria where all operational officers and new recruits were to undergo training in how to manage mentally ill persons including ‘being instructed to identify signs of depression and paranoia and being taught to develop a rapport with people suffering mental issues’. In New South Wales, only a four-day mental-health training program was implemented. It is only targeted to reach 10% of frontline officers by 2015. Justice Action questions the effectiveness of this training and argues that it should be given priority and treated with higher importance.

Our Proposal: To establish a safe and effective response

Professor Patrick McGorry recognises that if people in the community and in particular, those in close contact with a person suffering from mental illness were better educated about mental illness, intervention would in most cases occur before police action is needed. For this purpose, we suggest the employment of a consumer worker.

What does a consumer worker provide?

Consumer workers are people with ‘lived experiences’ and can identity with the ‘person in question’, that is, the mentally ill person. This means that they themselves have or had a mental illness, which allows them to empathise with the ‘person in question’. A consumer worker can assist and comfort the person in question, allowing them to feel safe and thus, producing a more effective intervention. In this way, consumer workers can bridge the gap between the ‘person in question’ and the police.

Situations for intervention

It is often the case that when a person looks to help a mentally ill person, they find themselves contacting the police. For this reason, it is imperative that police have the option of sending a consumer worker. After the consumer worker considers the patient’s position and assesses the situation, police will be enabled to take a ‘defensive’ approach.

  1. Critical situations, e.g. with a weapon

Where the ‘person in question’ has a weapon in their possession, it is necessary for the people dealing with them to be safe. Safety requires a defensive situation, which is one where neither the ‘person in question’ nor the consumer worker nor the police get hurt. An effective method to execute this is to use a physical shield. This ensures that the police and the consumer worker are in a position of safety while being defensively prepared, as opposed to being simply ‘armed’ with lethal force. The Roni Levi case is a classic example of a possible defensive situation, as shown by the Justice Action team re-enactment using a riot shield.

  1. Non-critical situations

Where the ‘person in question’ is harmless to the extent that they carry no weapon, a consumer worker can be easily established. As mentioned above, a consumer worker can provide empathic support for the ‘person in question’ as they have the personal experience, time and skills from having experienced a mental illness.


To assist the work contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hospital visit approved

Media Release Thursday September 29, 2011

Mental Health breakthrough – hospital visit approved
"In a breakthrough over two years in the making, Justice Action workers will visit patient Saeed Dezfouli in the Forensic Hospital Long Bay, at 9:30 this morning. This is the first time his friends have been permitted to see and touch him, yet he is a non-violent man forcibly injected every two weeks, denied education, social support and his identity. The team will conduct media interviews upon their exit at 10:45am" said Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins.

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