Prison Issues

Prison Issues

University Textbook Access-Jeffrey McKane

In a victory not only for Jeffrey McKane, but for all prisoners’ access to education, Justice Action has now succeeded in providing Mr McKane with access to the textbooks that are necessary to support his legal education.

Justice Action has been attempting to support Mr McKane’s educational endeavours by accessing online lecture materials on his behalf and sending him other vital learning materials, such as textbooks. The Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW gave express written permission for Justice Action to send textbooks to Mr McKane in a letter of 10 August 2016, advising that “all mail must be sent through the normal mail processes for checking”.  However, despite following the Commissioner’s directions, the textbooks sent by Justice Action to Goulburn Correctional Centre were rejected by prison mail officers on two separate occasions.

After Justice Action directly contacted the Commissioner, reminding him of his earlier assurance, it was arranged that Justice Action would send textbooks and other materials to Jeffrey McKane by addressing packages to the General Manager of the prison.  Justice Action has now been able to successfully provide Mr McKane with the textbooks that will allow him to meaningfully continue his studies in prison.

Justice Action took on Mr McKane’s case to protect his universal right of access to education. For individuals within the criminal justice system, this right is significant as it may facilitate further rehabilitation, ensure greater productivity during incarceration and provide a solid foundation for employment and self-development opportunities upon post-release.

This case provides a promising precedent for access to education in NSW prisons. We wish Jeffrey the best of luck with his future studies.

Prisoner Education Success Despite Ban

A huge achievement for a prisoner pursuing his right to education. Jeffrey McKane is a prisoner who, with the help of Justice Action, overcame numerous barriers – most of all being blocked by Corrective Services NSW – to complete his education. Jeffrey has just completed LAW00051: Legal Research and Writing at Southern Cross University, achieving the high result of a credit grade. The achievement is even more remarkable given that the NSW government this year has sacked almost 90% of teachers in prisons, and he did it with no support.

Jeffrey faced many barriers on his path to education. After Corrective Services NSW refused Jeffrey access to education in early 2016, JA intervened on the principle of the right to education. JA enrolled him to the university, supplied him with downloaded lecture notes and textbooks, and corresponded with him and academic staff. His success is a huge win for prisoners seeking to further their education.

With Education Officers in Goulburn Jail ending their jobs on Friday, 9th December 2016, the struggle will continue. Jeffrey will need to print and send his assignments to the University, and access audio CDs to listen to lectures. JA will continue to support Jeffrey in his public fight for an education. We will ask CSNSW to ensure Jeffrey’s access isn’t blocked.

The government has moved towards privatising prisoner education by sacking 138 out of 158 teachers and putting up for tender privately contracted trainers. The Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, claims that the new system will enable more prisoners to have the opportunity to access numeracy and literacy classes with the aim of reducing recidivism but has supplied no details regarding how this transition will occur and there is no evidence to support the claim that this system will be better off losing 138 qualified teachers trained in prison education.

Benefits of Education

  1.       Physical and Mental Health and Wellbeing 
  2.       Reducing Substance Abuse
  3.       Reducing Recidivism
  4.       Employment and Rehabilitation
  5.       Personal Development and Self-expression

Firstly, we believe that education will improve the wellbeing of the prisoner during their time incarcerated. Education carries enormous potential in simply providing a positive outlet for prisoners’ time. This is particularly important when we consider the long, monotonous hours prisoners are subject to while incarcerated, potentially reducing the use of illicit substances, amongst other self-destructive behaviours, to ‘pass the time.’ The case of Tracy Brannigan’s death in custody is one example of where education, had it been available, may have altered the unfortunate outcome. Justice Action firmly believes that mere access to education and a computer would have allowed her to use her time in prison effectively, which had often been spent locked down in her cell for hours on end. To ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again, we have proposed an action plan that should be considered by all stakeholders.

Not only will education in prison improve the wellbeing of offenders during their time incarcerated, but it will also help the offender shape their own identity. In doing so, this will allow them to deviate from their old lifestyle and become a functional member of society. As a result, an array of opportunities in areas of employment, ranging from the trades to the humanities, will open up for them to pursue once released. The US has shown this to be the case, as prisoners who participated in correctional educational programs were 43 percent less likely to reoffend.

"All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality” (Article 6 of the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners).  It is often misconceived that education only refers to intellectual and academic progression.  However as insulated through the aforementioned principle, education in fact includes infinite and invaluable ways of enriching individuals spiritually, culturally, socially, economically and personally. It should involve access to a variety of structured programs and unstructured learning hubs from which an individual can choose.  The availability of choice provides individuals with the freedom of self-directed learning so that they can pursue personal interest for their own betterment and enrichment.  It is through education that prisoners and forensic patients can increase the likelihood of successful and relatively easy reintegration into society upon their release as the process of learning provides individuals with more avenues for employment and thus financial independence.  

Education Rights

“Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress."

- Kofi Annan


RAND (Reports on the efficacy of prison education programs)
Prisoner Public Education Attacked
Denying Education to the Willing: The Jeffrey McKane Story
Computers in Cells Roundtable DIscussion
Prison Education Public Forum Footage
Prison Education Public Forum Summary Paper

Providing education to people in prisons is vital in reducing recidivism. A recent study found that inmates that participated in educational programs while in prison were 28% less likely to commit another serious offence than those that didn't participate. Therefore, providing education to prisoners is vital not only for the safety of the community, but also for the furthering of people in prisons. Providing prisoners with access to eduational services through computers in cells is a cheap and effective way to achieve this.

Education is a basic human right. The educated have heightened opportunities that allow for an improved quality of life. It is vital that all individuals be given access to education irrespective of socio-economic status or personal circumstances. There is an urgent need to improve education for prisoners as it highly contributes to reducing recidivism, maximising rehabilitation and allowing those in custody to work towards improved post-release lives.

Recent technological changes in educational systems have adversely impacted the incarcerated by impeding on their ability to undertake or complete studies. Prison privatisation has become another major barrier as it has led to a decrease in the staffing of quality education providers.

See our Report on the United Nation's Investigation into Education in Detention.
See also the Community Justice Coalition Forum on Education in Prison 2016 and our discussion paper.

 Education in cells improves mental and physical well being, reduction of substance abuse, increasing chances of post-release employment, rehabilitation, personal development and autonomy.

Many studies regarding education in custody have shown such improvements. A RAND Corporation study outlined that American “inmates participating in correctional education programs had a 43% lower recidivism rate than those who did not”. In addition, each dollar spent funding prison education decreased incarceration costs by four to five dollars.

 The UN Report on Education in Detention states that globally, many prisoners and detainees have faced “institutional and situational barriers” during their studies. This is particularly attributable to “the personal whims of prison administrators and officers… the absence of libraries… and educational material” (Munoz, 2009, 11). Australia, as a signatory of UNICESCR, has formally recognised that access to education is a basic human right, further enshrined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1995). It is therefore imperative that such arbitrary restrictions are prevented in corrective and mental health services. New processes such as retraining officers, hiring educational administrators and inclusion of prison libraries are necessary to increase accessibility to education programs.

Computers in Cells 

Computer access in cells can maximise productivity in a safe manner allowing access to online education, counselling, and legal services. Empirical data has demonstrated that computer-aided education has a highly beneficial effect on reducing recidivism compared to restricted access.

Online Services

Online services are paramount in giving inmates the ability to utilise education schemes, research databases and outlets.


A traditional literature system is essential, as many prisons do not have the finances to hire teachers or provide computers with Internet access in cells. Access to books allows inmates in custody to learn about subjects of interest, to self-development and improve productivity.

Lack of technology is a main barrier within prisons and prevents access to knowledge. It is unreasonable to expect a course to be completed without long-term access to computers and the Internet.

The successful case of Jeffrey McKane:

Prior to incarceration, Jeffrey McKane was embarking on a law degree at the University of New England. At Goulburn Correctional Centre, the NSWSC Commissioner repeatedly denied Mr McKane the ability to continue his studies citing inadequate resources and limited staffing. Furthermore, Mr McKane was denied his application to the Supreme Court seeking orders for CSNSW to grant him access to his studies.

This education block was highly disappointing but through Justice Action’s intervention, Mr McKane has gained access to study a law course at Southern Cross University (SCU). JA accessed online lecture materials on his behalf, took responsibility for his student email and administrative matters and provided a retired teacher to supervise Mr McKane’s examinations.

BSI Learning has been contracted as the main education provider in NSW prisons by Corrective Services NSW, replacing university-qualified educational officers with Certificate IV in Training and Assessment trainers who are not qualified to work in schools in the mainstream education framework.

The effect of NSW Privatisation

Additional education

Limited Certificate courses are currently provided by NSW Prisons in Construction, Education, Engineering, First Aid, Workplace Health and Safety, Health Support Services and Transport. Whereas BSI provides accredited learning courses in Hospitality, Kitchen Operations, Construction, Cleaning operations and Language, Literacy and Numeracy.

Additionally, institutions and government agencies offering modified higher education programs. The University of Southern Queensland, the leading and largest national provider for incarcerated higher education students, and the Adult Education and Vocational Training Institute offer limited Corrective Services approved Services in NSW.

Prisoner Education Forum 2016

Prison privatisation has resulted in reduced education quality and has raised significant ethical problems. Prisoner’s autonomy has been limited based on the decisions of private corporations, which are disinterested in prisoner rehabilitation.

Privatisation of prisons has been seen, for example, in the 2016 “Better Prisons” initiative replacing 130 qualified teaching positions in NSW prisoners with administrative clerks. The government described the initiative as a program to lift performance and improve the efficiency of the prison education system. However, profit and efficiency became the long-term aim. 

Prisoner Education Forum 2018

The primary focus of the 2018 Community Justice Coalition forum was the compromised quality of tailored education brought about by privatisation. It was evaluated that this system is a significant demarcation of the poor standards of teaching in prisons.

The 2018 Prisoner Education Forum (PEF) passed two motions resolving that professional teachers be provided throughout NSW prisons with a focus on reducing recidivism and supporting reintegration into society. PEF also resolved that computers in cells should be provided to prisoners as an educational tool.

Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016

prison fence 219264 960 720

The recent announcement by the NSW Government that the National Australia Bank (NAB) and the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) have signed up as investors to their recent ‘social impact investment’ scheme must be met with further scrutiny.

Justice Action is concerned that attempts by the NSW government to distance itself from the direct implementation of criminal justice programs reduces their accountability as elected officials in providing effective services for its citizens. Seen in conjunction with recent efforts to privatise the prison system in its entirety, there is legitimate cause for further examination.

Justice Actions is also concerned at the inclusion of ACSO, a Melbourne based organisation. Motivated by a return on investment may potentially lead to the watering down of benchmarks regarding recidivism rates and the successful re-integration of prisoners. We believe that their advocacy role could be compromised as an investor in this scheme. The decision by the NSW Government not to publicly reveal the exact investment amounts and the potential returns for investors’ further obscures the relationships at the heart of this scheme.

As a criminal justice advocacy organisation, Justice Action is primarily concerned with ensuring that the rights and needs of those in Australian prisons and locked hospitals are met. Justice Action is not against attempts to innovate and provide better quality of services to these people. However, the absence of a truly independent authority assessing the success of these programs does not bode well for transparency and accountability within government programs.

Justice Action would like to see greater transparency within the program. The relationship between investors and the Government must be more clearly defined in the public sphere. The relevant expectations and obligations of both groups must also be clearly outlined. Importantly, considering the alarming statistics surrounding the criminal justice system in NSW, accountability for failure, and success, must be made clearer.

Justice Action is pleased that the NSW Government is taking prison reform seriously. However, as with any essential government service, due caution must be taken to ensure that the relevant parties are not adversely affected.

See the Sydney Morning Herald Article here 

Prisoner Public Education Attacked

Long Bay Rally

In May 2016 the Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, and the Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW, Peter Severin, announced the 'Better Prisons' initiative, which would remove over 130 qualified teaching positions in NSW prisons. The proposal would see administrative clerks replace the senior education/education officers and outsource the provision of education to private providers. 

The proposal to privatise prison education highlights significant issues such as prisoners' dependency on private corporations whose main objective is to maximise profits, as well as the problematic outlook that education is merely a means of production.  Thus, implementation of the proposal would compromise rehabilitative environments for inmates in the prison system. For a summary of the issues, please refer to the Summary Paper here.

Click Here for the Letter from May Butler (an inmate) (2nd June 2016)
Click Here for 'Three Quarters of Teachers to be Sacked from NSW Prisons' (SMH 10th May 2016) 

Read more

Privatisation in the International Context

The Argument for Privatisation
Conventional arguments for privatisation of prisons generally canvas the same issues. These characterise privatisation as a response to increasing inmate populations and exploding costs, claiming the potential for private involvement in public services to generate “sustainable value” by bringing public and private interests closer together, and generating the capacity to innovate by identifying and pursuing new opportunities for service provision, which may, in turn, generate positive sectoral spill-over effects.

Despite this, there is an obvious and basic conflict between the interests of society in ultimately minimising the number of people confined in prisons, and the financial interests of private prison operators in maximising the number of prisons, prisoners, and sentence lengths.

Additionally, there is no international measure of prison performance against which private prisons can be effectively adjudged. This is compounded by the fact that a number of private corporations - such as Serco, G4S and GEO - enjoy a monopoly over private prison management in countries including Australia, USA, The UK, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel. 

Read more

Privatisation of Prisons: Analysis

21032016PrivatisationClick here to download the analysis. 

With NSW prisons overcrowding at a record high, the debate about the privatisation of prisons has resurfaced. NSW Prison population numbers have reached over 11 300 and NSW prisons are not equipped to deal with numbers this high.  As of March 2014, there were eight privately run prisons in Australia, two of which are in New South Wales (Green et. al 2014). These centres are Junee and Parklea Correctional Centres. In 2009, the NSW government announced that the GEO Group Inc. would take over Parklea Correctional Centre. Some advocate that privatization aids in solving prison overcrowding and results in a more cost efficient management of prisons (Martha & Frank , 2012).

See the Inspector’s Report on “Full House – the growth of the inmate populations in NSW” here.

Reasons Against Privatisation
The privatisation of Parklea Correctional Centre was opposed in 2009 and our stance has not changed. Drawing upon the experience across Australia, as well as in the United States, England, New Zealand we see an abundance of reasons to strongly oppose privatization.

Read more

Recent Responses to our Online Counselling Proposal

On the 23rd November 2015, Justice Action presented a proposal regarding the provision of online counselling to prisoners at the NSW Legislative Inquiry. It was a proposal to initiate a three-month trial of online counselling in cells at no cost to the government. The proposal is supported by victims group ‘Enough is Enough’ and ‘Prisoner’s Aid of NSW’.

Justice Action asked for support from Minister Elliott and Premier Baird on the 14th December 2015. We received a letter on their behalf from the Commissioner of Corrective Services, Luke Grant, which stated the department “considers an online counselling service [to] not be appropriate without adequate support or engagement with mental health staff”.

We responded with a letter that highlighted the need to implement a different system that will provide effective rehabilitation services. Despite the State Plan to reduce recidivism by 5%, the rate of adult reoffending has actually increased. The NSW Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament 2015 revealed 45.8% of released prisoners returned within two years of release.

Despite contacting Minister Elliott again on the 2nd February 2016, the proposal for online counselling has been ignored.



  • get involved2
  • donate
  • breakout-logo2



Justice Action
Trades Hall, Level 2, Suite 204
4 Goulburn Street
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

T 02 9283 0123
F 02 9283 0112
E ja@justiceaction.org.au
© 2017 Breakout Media Communications
breakout-logo  womens justice network icon logo-community