Prison Issues

Prison Issues

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

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

What is education?  Put simply, education is power.  It is the power of opportunity and self-determination.

See our Education Position Paper.

The access and quality of education services to those within the prison and mental health care systems continues to be an area of great debate and discussion. It is inevitable that many in society view individuals within the prison and mental health care systems as unworthy or undeserving of such a “privilege”. However, education is a basic human right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to which all deserve access irrespective of social or economic status, or personal circumstance. Australia formally acknowledged its recognition of and commitment to this right (Article 13 of the ICESCR) through its involvement in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The denial of education should not be used as a punitive measure by corrective or mental health care services.

Education is a multifaceted concept that targets and promotes opportunity, growth, wellbeing and awareness. One of JA’s aims is to educate prisoners and forensic patients, figures of authority and the community as to the education rights and benefits of those within the prison and mental health care systems. Through this, JA also seeks to increase the advocacy for and acknowledgement of these rights.

Read more

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.


Prison Privatisation

Media Release: Private Prison Serco takeover: Royal Commission call
Junee Prison Death
Grafton Private Prison
The Failure of Private Prisons in the US - August 2016
Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016

Privatisation refers to the transfer of ownership and management of prisons from the government to private sector actors. This means that the prison structure - which as a state institution, aims to protect the public good - is now being treated as a business venture. Businesses rely on growth in order to generate profit. It follows that an influx of prisoners will equate to an increase in profits. Justice Action unequivocally believes that higher rates of incarceration are not in the public interest. For this reason, 'solving' issues such as overcrowding and resource constraints through the privatisation of prisons is unsustainable, morally questionable and largely counterproductive. Privatisations of Prisons analysis

The US prison system illustrates the dangers of privatisation. The inflation of the US prison population has coincided with the increased privatisation of prison facilties. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 6% of state prisons and 16% of federal prisons are privately run. Currently, the US boasts the highest prison population rate in the world, at 716 per 100,000 people. Despite claims that violent crime has decreased, rates of incarceration have increased. This has resulted in the increased incarceration of minor offenders, including victims of political campaigns such as the War on Drugs. In this sense, reaching prison quotas is achieved through systemic corruption and a blatant rejection of the welfare of the accused individual.

Additionally, the media has exacerbated the growth of corporate power in the US prison system. The media plays a signicant role in shifting public perceptions of the value and function of prison, often employing the language of freedoms and liberties to justify the appauling treatment of those who have abused these rights. A number of prison corporations in the US have been accused of forming alliances with right-wing media channels that disseminate fear into the public sphere. Instilling fear into the community will invariably lead to more validation and support for the expansion of the prison system. A fundamental problem with the US privatised prison system is that it largely ignores prisoner welfare and lacks a genuine consideration for rehabilitation because it stands in direct conflict with the pursuit of corporate interests. In the privatised prison realm, potential reoffenders are viewed as security for the attainment of future profits.

It is clear that the system is in need of reform. However, it is important to evaluate all potential options prior to contracting out a vitally important public institution into the hands of private business.

More from Justice Action:
New Zealand Privatisation
NSW Privatisation 2009
Privatisation on an international level
NSW proposal for a private prison model
New Zealand's Mt Eden Correctional Facility reverts to publicInternational Research Proves Prison Privatisation is a Failure

Right Now is a volunteer not-for-profit organisation that focuses on highlighting human rights issues in Australia through accessible and engaging media, believing that a rights-respecting culture begins with the open flow of information. In 2012, they published a damning review of prison privatisation in Australia. Read the report here.

The Sentencing Project, a US not-for-profit organisation involved in research and advocacy for criminal justice issues, published a report in 2013 of the inherent failings of prison privatisation in the US, a model that has been followed by other countries overseas. Read the report here.

The Conversation published the results of a comparative analysis of prisons in Nordic countries, with a wholly public system, and those in English-speaking countries, where private prisons are common. Read the article here.

Inspector's Report


Overview of Inspector of Custodial Services Report

Bolivia Prison Wordpress

Full House: The Growth of the Inmate Population in NSW’

Parliamentary forum August 26,2015 & CJC/ICJ Analysis of Report

JA Analysis of CSNSW Response to Report

CSNSW Response to Inspector's Report

See our Media Release: Prisons Budget Expansion Failure 

“Full House: The Growth of the inmate population in NSW” written by the Inspector of Custodial Services, J. R. Paget tabled in parliament 6th may 2015, brings to light the stark realities of prison overcrowding in NSW. Mr John Paget, former Assistant Commissioner for New South Wales warns of the consequences on inmates and staff of the mismanagement he documented. He said:                                                                                                           

“Where the state treats inmates in a way that denies them a modicum of dignity and humanity it should not be surprised if they respond accordingly, with individual acts of non-compliant behaviour escalating into collective disorder, such as riots” (Foreword)

This report outlines the negative implication the growth of the inmate population has had upon issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation and education services, as well as the health and wellbeing of prisoners.

Read more


  • 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