Policy Proposal

 Comps in cells 1

Justice Action has been campaigning for Computers in Cells since 1998, though the New South Wales government and the Department of Corrective Services has blocked any progress.  This rejection of progress by the NSW government is based on misinformed security concerns, the ignorance of prison administration, and the decision of the NSW government to favour political point scoring over pragmatic policy making, to the detriment of prisoners and the broader community at large.

Although the timeline begins in 1998, this article focuses on the most recent JA policy proposal regarding Computers in Cells, published in 2012.


 There is currently no provision of computers in individual cells in NSW or most prisons around the world. NSW Correctional Centres provide shared classrooms where inmates may access computers for limited number of hours under supervision provided they submit an ‘Offender Application for Access to Computers’ and agree to the ‘Guidelines for Offenders Using Computers’.  Managers must ensure that “desktop computers are used for work, education, training and/or legal use”.  Under Section, “the offender’s access to the desktop computer is to be withdrawn immediately” if supervision cannot be provided and often this means that access to computers is limited and that prisoners face educational setbacks. Meanwhile, most TAFE and university courses now require regular access to computers. A report by the Employment, Education and Training References Committee notes, “it is becoming increasingly common for enrolment into courses to be conditional on having access to a computer and in some instances, to a modem as well so that two-way communication will be possible”.  

As a result of the inaccessibility of computers under the status quo, only 1.3% of NSW prisoners are engaged in higher education.  This is a particularly significant problem because 60% of inmates in NSW did not complete year 10 in the first place. The onus for improving this situation lies squarely with government. Between 2003 and 2004, 39% of prisoners participated in courses offered by the Adult Education and Vocational Training Institute, showing a desire for self-improvement when the opportunity was available. 

Considering the inadequacy of communal computer facilities and taking into account the success of the above examples, Justice Action proposes the provision of individual computers in cells for prisoners. These computers should be equipped with

● Email capability so that inmates may keep in touch with family, friends and teachers so that they may complete their learning and successfully reintegrate into society upon the completion of their incarceration
● Access to legal resources whether in the form of CD-ROMs or online resources such as Austli
● Programs vital to the inmate’s vocational or tertiary learning if study is being undertaken. The availability of such programs will also encourage further education among those who have yet to consider such a step.
● Access to web-based resources so that inmates may search for and apply for employment opportunities as they approach their release date.

Justice Action has already received a great deal of interest from organisations wishing to contribute to this project. The provision of computers will be at virtually no cost to the Department of Corrective Services NSW as these computers can be sourced from companies who regularly turn over their stock of computers or from other government departments. Furthermore, most computers whose hardware is less than five years old are compatible with the requisite software to maintain the security and efficient operation of this system (see 4.2 Software) and this provides a large scope from which computers can be taken. Such a model of supply also has applicability on the international stage due to the rapid replacement of computers at major companies.

One obvious concern with the implementation of such a program is that of security and abuse of the system. However, established software, such as Cyber PrisonPC, allows for easy surveillance and management of any unauthorised computer use while maintaining the educational benefits of computer access. PrisonPC promises a “centrally managed computing system, enabling custodial staff to manage all desktops from a single, isolated location” and desktops which are “resilient to any method of permanent user modification or unauthorised changes”.

With regards the applications of such software, PrisonPC includes:

● Complete office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, etc)
● PDF document viewer
● Educational software
● Games (solitaire, etc)
● Extensive online help

Furthermore, prisoners may also be given access to an approved list of websites and a secure email so that they may contact a restricted and monitored amount of people (such as their solicitor and family members), similar to their existing managed telephone access. Indeed, the current system used by the NSW Department of Education and Training to control prisoners’ access to Internet sources through the use of an intranet system that puts appropriate limits on the information prisoners can access online.

While Justice Action has considered and addressed various concerns arising from the proposed installation of computers in cells, we recognise that inmates may still abuse the system. In such an event, it is necessary that authorities recognise the principle of individual responsibility as opposed to collective responsibility, ensuring that only those inmates who abuse the system should be punished. Imposing punishments on the entire prison due to the transgressions of select prisoners will have the negative effect of setting back the educational aspirations of the entire prison community. In the event that abuses of the computers in cells system does occur, transgressors should be dealt with individually, allowing the other prisoners to enjoy the continued educational benefits proposed by the computer program.

It is essential that some formal principles about computer access for people in detention are immediately established, as this is basic to any serious attempt to nationally implement a computers in cells (CIC) program. The aim is to fully defend the CIC system against any abuses that could place the community, prisons or prison staff at risk.

By examining several cases where prisoners have abused computers, we have developed the ‘Gold Standards’ that all CIC programs should abide by. Through these ‘Gold Standards’ we additionally intend to pre-emptively address any security concerns relating to the implementation of computers in prisoners’ cells.

Gold Standards:

● Logging, Monitoring and Storage of each user’s session.
● Print Accounts ensure all printed material is monitored and linkable to a specific individual.
● Restricted Memory/Storage Devices guarantee that prisoners may only view material on staff approved devices. Prisoners are unable to upload material or view content that has not been approved.
● Email Restrictions mean prisoners may only email approved correspondents. Additionally, all email passes through a security filtration system monitored by staff. (Refer to section 4.2)
● Website Restrictions allow prisoners access to approved sites only.
● Enforced Curfews determine when computers automatically shut down.
● Regular Hardware Checks by prison staff ensure no tampering has occurred.

While the cost of providing a computer for each cell may seem prohibitive, the reality that this that this program would run a minimal short-term loss and quickly move into a position to actually save money for the Department of Corrective Services and the taxpayer (as will be discussed in 6.5 – Benefits of Cost and Morality for the state). As has been mentioned in 4.1 – Supply, numerous companies have already registered an interest in supplying free, used computers for such a program. Furthermore, in facilities such as the Nowra Prison in NSW, there is already wiring set up for the provision of computers for each prisoner – all that is required is the political will to take action.

The provision of individual computers for prisoners has numerous benefits. The immediate outcome, of course, is that personal computers can be used to minimise confrontation and disruption within the prison system. Furthermore, by granting prisoners access to legal resources this scheme can reduce bureaucratic clutter and promote a greater understanding by prisoners of how the law operates – providing a deterrent for future criminal activity. Meanwhile, in the long term this model also acts to lower recidivism. Boosting levels of prisoner education improves prisoner rehabilitation: a process which is not only beneficial for the prisoners, but also for the Department of Corrective Services which will have a smaller population of prisoners who re-offend to cater for.

Personal computers offer significant opportunities for prisoners – even if this is only to reduce boredom.  As a result, the presence of a computer provides a major behavioural incentive for prisoners to behave and not abuse this privilege. The computer provides ease of access for communication with family as well as other simple distractions and prisoners will want to maintain this and so are less likely to risk their removal through inappropriate actions. All of this means that prison management will have another tool with which to control the prison population and maintain order.

Computers provide prisoners with access to legal resources to assist with their cases. For instance, prisoners are able to read and respond to briefs, and access transcripts and legal Acts which are available on CD-ROMs. Computers also provide access to online legal resources, such as those provided by the Australasian Legal Information Institution (Austlii). This information will assist prisoners in accessing evidentiary and other materials relied upon by the police in court cases without difficulty. 

 The first opportunity that personal computers offer for prisoners is the chance to improve computer literacy. Computer literacy is an increasingly vital requirement for everyday life; it significantly affects education, vocational training and career prospects. Very few jobs do not involve consistent interaction with a computer. By denying these skills, DCS is relegating ex-inmates to manual labour and similar arduous occupations. Furthermore, many female prisoners find aptitude with computers give them a great advantage when they returned home, allowing them to help their children with technical problems. 

One of the keys to successfully rehabilitating prisoners into society is providing a set of relationships for them to fall back on in the outside world. Access to regular email with family through this scheme allows for the prisoners to maintain these connections and retain a sense of self-worth that will encourage them to improve their situation through study (also facilitated by the computers)! Furthermore, as beneficial as such a relationship is to the prisoner, it also allows for peace of mind for the families of those imprisoned. Indeed, by being able to communicate with that father, mother, brother or aunt, family members will themselves be less likely to offend due to a reduction in feelings of isolation. 

The most important aspect of this scheme is that it encourages prisoner education. Computers, to a far greater extent than any previously available resource, allow prisoners to successfully move towards a TAFE or university qualification, and do so in a far more user-friendly method than any prison library or occasional prison educational course. Why is education particularly important for prisoners though? It is important because there is a clear correlation between one’s level of education and the probability of committing a crime. 

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy


Behavioural Therapy

Thinking for change Against crime 




This proposal is the second of four parts of a Justice Reform Initiative

 tackling the failure of  the penal system to achieve its own goals.

 We propose a new paradigm of prisoner responsibility

 enabling them to change their behaviour instead

 of passively waiting for time to pass.


Justice Action Draft Paper 10.09.2012 Download Here


1. Introduction

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

     2.1 Cognitive Therapy

     2.2 Behavioural Therapy

3. Critiques of CBT

     3.1 Other Explanations for Criminal Behaviour

     3.2 Measuring Effectiveness

     3.3 Funding for CBT

4. CBT Principles and Programs

     4.1 CBT As It Should Be

     4.2 Risk Needs Responsivity Model (RNR)

     4.3 Good Lives Model (GLM)

     4.4 Other CBT Principles

     4.5 Moral Resonation Therapy (MRT)

     4.6 Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R & R)

5. The use of CBT to reduce Recidivism

     5.1 Sex Offences

     5.2 General Offender Population

6. How CBT is Currently Being Implemented in our Prison System

     6.1 Treatment for people charged with a sex offence

     6.2 General Offender Population

7. Can Non-Professionals Deliver CBT-Based Program?

     7.1 CBT Programs used overseas

     7.2 Effectiveness of Thinking for a Change (T4C)

8. Conclusion

1. Introduction

If a person develops views and learns sorts of behaviour that offend others who are important to them, they can also learn how to change. This is the common process of parenting or socialisation, but packaged more formally as a therapy. This paper examines cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) use in prisons; its potential, its misuse and exploitation for power and profit.

Justice Action proposes that such CBT programs should:

  • Be accessible by choice to offenders at all stages, from arrest to re-integration into society;
  • Be facilitated in safe, private and individualised environments, which allow family and friends to assist in the rehabilitation process;
  • Have a transparent funding system with accountable decision making processes
  • Be available online and;
  • Ensure governments are responsible for improving external factors which influence crime rates, such as social and economic disadvantages

We present an analysis of its use worldwide, and with various forms of offending. Every modern prison system has now adopted a psychological approach to “treatment” of prisoners’ recidivism using extra professional staff, often displacing other prisoner services such as education and vocational training. Although in theory behavioural programs are voluntary, in practice many prisoners are subtly coerced to complete CBT courses as a requirement for release.

Some CBT based programs have significantly reduced re-offending. Prison systems have enthusiastically adopted the approach, as it provides legitimacy to their existence, presenting themselves as focussing on changing the individual. This ignores the complex array of social and economic factors that contribute to an offender’s behaviour and status. Unfair discrimination and preventative measures such as improved employment opportunities, access to affordable housing and better education are ignored. The reality of life outside the prison remains.

This paper discusses the flaws of the adopted form of CBT and offers insights into how it could be useful, serving the prisoner and the community. Instead it has become an industry with proprietary “programs” linked to former employees. Research and payments for programs absorb large budgets, but have limited benefit for prisoners. The coercive pressure to complete CBT programs has greatly reduced their effectiveness. Unmotivated prisoners who are forced to participate simply ‘tell them what they want to hear’ in order to gain release. Honesty is punished.

It is only after consideration is given to these flaws that we can begin to consider how CBT can be improved to achieve greater success. Instead of participation through coercion, changes must be made so that it is achieved through the creation of a therapeutic environment based on mutual trust, complete privacy and support from not just staff but a network including family and friends. It must be available throughout one’s incarceration, from apprehension to parole, rather than being presented as the final turnstile to be endured before release.

This type of therapy assists the change of unhelpful or unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Treatment first identifies problematic thinking and behaviours and then looks to teach and practice more socially acceptable means of overcoming them. It can be implemented through a wide range of treatments and programs, each targeting a specific pattern of offending which range from violent behaviour, drug addiction and sex offences. While it exists in various forms, collectively it is known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This paper utilises the Stages of Change model as a basis for providing suggestions to improve how CBT is delivered within a correctional setting. The Stages of Change Model:

“Shows that, for most persons, a change in behaviour occurs gradually, with the patient moving from being uninterested, unaware or unwilling to make a change (pre-contemplation), to considering a change (contemplation), to deciding and preparing to make a change. Genuine, determined action is then taken and, over time, attempts to maintain the new behaviour occur. Relapses are almost inevitable and become part of the process of working toward lifelong change.”[1]

CBT can be used to treat an array of problems including anxiety, depression, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic-stress disorder, schizophrenia, marital distress, anger, sexual offending, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and eating disorders. It involves the use of practical self-help strategies to change thinking, which are designed to bring about positive and immediate changes in the quality of a person’s life. [2]

CBT teaches people that it is possible to have control over their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It helps the person challenge and overcome automatic beliefs by using practical strategies to modify their behaviour, with the result of increased positive feelings, leading to increased positive thoughts and conduct. [3] CBT is a combination of two therapies – ‘Cognitive’ and ‘Behavioural’, both of which will be described below.

2.1 Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive Therapy aims to change the way the person thinks about the issue causing concern. Problematic and distorted thoughts cause self-destructive feelings and behaviours. For example, someone who thinks they are unworthy of love or respect may feel withdrawn in social situations and behave in a timidly manner. Cognitive Therapy challenges these problematic thoughts, through various techniques. One technique employed during cognitive therapy involves asking the person to come up with evidence to ‘prove’ that they are unlovable. This may include prompting the person to acknowledge family and friends who love and respect them. This process, known as ‘cognitive restructuring’, helps the person realise that their underlying belief is false. Through this process, a person learns to identify and challenge the problematic thoughts, replacing them with positive thought patterns.

2.2 Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural Therapy aims to teach techniques and skills to modify unhelpful behaviour. For example, a person who behaves shyly at a party may possess negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. Behavioural Therapy teaches the person helpful behaviours in order to combat the negativity. The person may be taught conversational skills to practice in therapy and ultimately deploy in social situations. Negative thoughts and feelings gradually reduce as the person increasingly employs the practised behaviour and gains confidence. [4]

A defining feature of CBT is the suggestion that symptoms and dysfunctional habits, beliefs, and behaviours are often cognitively mediated and hence, improvement can be produced by their modification. [5] CBT can be contrasted with behavioural treatments in which cognition is not considered an important explanatory variable and is not identified as a specific target for intervention.[6] In summary, CBT is based on scientific principles and collaboration (i.e. client and therapist work together), it focuses on the ‘here and now’, is structured, time-limited, goal-oriented, progress-monitored, regularly reviewed, administered individually or in a group, skills-based, and places an emphasis on between-session skills practice (homework). The client’s self-motivation is also a vital component to the success of CBT.

3. Critiques of CBT

There have been several criticisms levelled at the workings of CBT programs. The first issue to be discussed focuses less on the actual effectiveness of CBT and more on the ideological underpinnings of CBT programs. Such programs been criticised for placing undue blame on the individual for their criminal behaviour while ignoring the social and economic determinants of crime. Consequently it focuses only on the ‘nature’ rather than the ‘nurture’ of the problem, and may be used as an excuse to shift responsibility on individual characteristics. Following this will be a critical examination of evaluations of CBT’s effectiveness. The final issue to be examined in this chapter is that of the various financial aspects of researching and delivering CBT.

3.1 Other Explanations for Criminal Behaviour

It is maintained that offenders lack certain cognitive skills and that this predisposes them to a higher risk of criminality. [7] CBT teaches offenders these missing cognitive skills and allows offenders to be rehabilitated.[8] This presents a fundamental limitation. Focussing on the individual as being solely responsible and providing society with a ‘free pass’ leads to serious issues such as dehumanising the offender who is seen as ‘wrong’ or ‘sick’, relative to ‘normal’ law-abiding citizens. [9] 

As cited in Kendall (2002), Fox (2001) concluded that a cognitive behavioural program for violent offenders in America aimed to bribe prisoners into internalising notions of criminal identity. [10] CBT is similar. It aims to induce prisoners into believing that they are criminals, characterised by cognitive deficits. [11] When this is achieved, it is possible for prisoners to undergo the process of self-recovery.[12] One may argue that this mirrors a labelling theory, a fundamental criminological position developed by Howard Becker in 1963. Becker postulated that people who are likely to engage in rule breaking behaviour as essentially different from members of the rule-making or rule-abiding society. Becker uses the term "outsider" to denote a labelled rule-breaker or deviant who accepts the label attached to them and views themself as different from "mainstream" society. [13]

CBT fails to acknowledge that social and economic factors influence offender’s engagement in crime. [14] In fact, Andrews and Bonta, the pioneers of CBT, argue that social-structural and systemic issues such as inequality, race, culture, unemployment and so forth should not and need not be addressed. Rather, explanations of crime that are based on such ideas should be disregarded. [15] This particularly disadvantages Indigenous offenders whose behaviour arguably cannot be examined without an understanding of the historical relationship between themselves and the white government.

Since CBT focuses solely on an individual’s characteristics, it can be perceived as a tool utilised by the government to reduce its responsibility or role in the transitional pathway an individual takes to become an offender. This is indicated by CBT programs for female offenders that teach them that their poverty, drug addiction and abuse are a result of their own misguided thinking, rather than a lack of supportive or educational services. [16] One must also keep in mind that CBT programs have a very real impact on the lives of those who are supposed to receive them. It affects not only their behaviour, but determines their eligibility for parole. Failure to complete a program may contribute to denied or delayed release. Such measures ensure participation in CBT programs. However, coerced participation will always be far less effective than involvement in a CBT process.

CBT, being based on psychological theory, focuses on the individual’s inner workings and is thus less interested in social or economic factors. The role of government in this regard is paramount. The government must provide funding and develop solutions to address social and economic issues following justice reinvestment models. Increased access to education, jobs and economic productivity is essential within disadvantaged communities. CBT may be viewed as an attempt to teach offenders the skills and knowledge that society has failed to provide them.

Birgden argues that rehabilitation programs based on the Risk Needs Responsivity (RNR) model fail to incorporate the role of the broader criminal justice system. [17] Many CBT programs are based on RNR principles and therefore are lacking in external responsivity. With rehabilitation being forced upon offenders in return for their release, one must question whether CBT is actually offering an engaging treatment delivery service, or whether offenders are coerced into these programs in order to be released. Birgden proposes that criminal justice agents need to play a supportive role in encouraging offenders to engage in rehabilitation programs. Furthermore the offenders should not be coerced into undertaking rehabilitation programs, but rather undergo a cognitive change from pre-contemplation to self re-evaluation leading to an inner desire and motivation to change and participate in rehabilitation process. [18]

3.2 Measuring Effectiveness

Some meta-analysis studies examining the effectiveness of CBT have been criticised for their bias. For example, most of the research in these studies included only young American males, which suggests that gender, race and ethnicity were not properly considered. In general, qualitative data is not taken seriously or given as much weight as quantitative research, which is unfortunate as qualitative data provides important insights into the effectiveness of CBT as perceived by the offenders who experienced it.

Secondly, there exists an inherent ‘publication bias’ in academic literature. Successful studies are given publication precedence, which naturally skews meta-analyses to include successful studies.

Thirdly, it is disadvantageous to place too much emphasis on recidivism when assessing the effectiveness of CBT programs. Recidivism rates are deceptive because they do not take into account what it means when ex-inmates re-offend with a less serious offence or an offence not targeted by any behavioural modification program they have engaged in. Although these cases can reveal information about the effectiveness of the program, analysts often miss them, and their implications misinterpreted.

Furthermore, recidivism rate fluctuations are often quite subtle and not immediately apparent to the public, which makes preferentially relying on them problematic. Other methods of measuring effectiveness, such as victimisation and crime rates, show more fluctuation over time and may reveal more meaningful information. The nature of recidivism is that, as essentially a measure of rates of failure to rehabilitate and return to society, these small fluctuations appear to discredit the penal system in the eyes of the public. Although a small drop may be the result of great effort, it still appears that the rate has changed little. A very dramatic change is needed to drive home the point that once inmates leave prison, the penal system has very little influence or control over them. One of the noteworthy advantages of the Good Lives Model (discussed below) is its de-emphasis on recidivism as a form of measurement.

3.3 Funding of CBT

National spending on corrective services in Australia between 2010-2011 was $2.3 billion. [19] In 2007 the US spent $74 billion on correctional services.[20] Thus, correctional services are a significant burden on the government’s budget. The private sector is becoming increasingly involved in research and service provision within this sector. While proving costly for governments, correctional services are a growing market for private parties. One must be reminded that it is within this context that research regarding rehabilitation programs such as CBT is situated.

The first issue considered when discussing financing programs, particularly CBT, is the role of the government. While some private involvement in the funding and provision of correctional services seems unavoidable, there are numerous risks associated with a diminished role of the government and the insidious increase of a focus on profit. Can a social issue such as recidivism, that requires lengthy, expensive, multi-disciplinary approaches, be adequately addressed by market driven forces whose objective is to secure profit? The development and delivery of CBT programs is time consuming and expensive. While minimizing some of the expenses associated with such development and delivery of CBT may make programs such as this more cost effective, it may also diminish the effectiveness in rehabilitation. This may create difficulties when program developers are pressured to achieve quick and significant success.

Addressing the causal factors for offending behaviour and preventing reoffending offers numerous benefits for the individual and society alike. Regardless of whether the private sector becomes involved, achieving this should continue to be a responsibility of the government. The relationship between the private sector and the government becomes more complex when attention is drawn to funding for research into rehabilitation. While not always the case, much of the initial research into development of rehabilitation programs is carried out by academics working in government-funded universities. Treatment programs and products such as interviewing guides, user manuals and screening instruments based on this research are then developed and marketed privately with little transparency in regards to where they were developed.

As with much developing academic research, there is little consensus regarding the most effective delivery of CBT programs. One example of such contestation between researchers is the ongoing debate between the RNR Model of delivery for rehabilitation programs versus the Good Lives Model. (Both of which will be described further in the paper.) What is important to note here is that contestation between these two theories no longer exists solely as a dispute within the academic field. Given the context of increasing privatisation in a lucrative market, such difference in theories also translates to be a contest between researchers each trying to sell their program as a product. While the expertise of the researchers involved and the quality of their work is significant, the fact that their research exists in a marketplace with considerable profits at stake raises several critical issues.

One must consider whether a researcher is burdened with a conflict of interest between the need to ensure that they apply critical responsivity towards their own work and ensuring they market a strong product. To put it differently, can a researcher recognise and address a weakness in their own research without being seen as acknowledging a potential flaw in their product? Ultimately, this market driven arena does not allow for a flexible, critical evaluation of a programs success.

Moreover, now that such research operates within a marketplace, researchers find themselves working under new pressures. Whereas previously the question may have been ‘what works’, an academic developing such programs may also be forced to consider ‘what’s affordable’.

The discussion of how the development and delivery of CBT programs are financed highlights the need for transparency. To know how, why and by whom a rehabilitation program such as CBT has been developed and delivered is crucial. With a basic understanding of the critiques and limitations of CBT, the use of this method of therapy among the offender population will now be examined.

4. CBT Principles and Programs

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy aims to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate offenders by navigating them through several motivational stages. At present there are many CBT based programs but they are limited in achieving their potential. For example, these programs are only voluntary in title. In reality participation is achieved through subtle coercion. Although they are not formally forced to participate in the same way that inmates in many American states were in the 1970s, there is serious incentive to do so. Whether an inmate participates in CBT and performs in ways that meets the approval of the staff is a strong deciding factor for prison administration and criminal justice agencies when they consider whether to grant them parole or relocate to a better location. To inmates with little hope of improving their position otherwise, this implies that they have no other option but to take part. This leads to the situation where many participate in programs only to improve their chances of parole or relocation, and hence do not receive the full rehabilitative benefits of CBT. Consequently many inmates revert back to their previous lifestyles. This is the abortive nature of the subtle coercion methods that are currently practised.

For Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to be effective these sorts of practices cannot be allowed to continue. The motivation of individuals is required to instigate change. Additionally improvements must be made in relation to accessibility of the programs as well as increasing the amount of support from professional and non-prison personnel.

4.1 CBT As It Should Be

Firstly, for the programs to be effective there must be voluntary participation from the offenders. Research indicates that forcing or banning a particular behaviour does not necessarily work. For example, the majority of consumers who are forced to quit smoking in mental health units resume smoking immediately upon release. [21] Many complete rehabilitation programs to gain release. With such coercion, it is questionable as to whether an offender’s motivation to participate is based on a true desire for change, or the ineffective desire to simply ‘tick the boxes’ to gain release. And if the latter is the case, it is only a matter of time before the offenders go back into the cycle of old habits.

Thus if long-lasting change is to occur it must come from within rather than being imposed. Ideally the implementation and delivery of CBT programs must encourage the participants to navigate through several motivational stages. These stages are the pre-contemplating, contemplating and planning, and action stages. [22]

Rehabilitation will be most effective when individuals participate for the right reasons. Prisoners are forced to complete rehabilitation programs in order to gain release. With such coercion, it is questionable as to whether an offender’s motivation to participate is based on a true desire for change, or the ineffective desire to simply ‘tick the boxes’ to gain release. Rehabilitation in prisons must therefore be optional, not forced. This would not create internal inconstancy within in the prison system. It is already the case that justifications for prison sentences reflect societies mixed desire to punish (under the ‘Just Desserts’ model), rehabilitate and protect itself. This is evident in the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) s 3A, which clarifies that the purpose of sentencing is:

“(a) To ensure that the offender is adequately punished for the offence,

 (b) To prevent crime by deterring the offender and other persons from committing similar offences,

 (c) To protect the community from the offender,

 (d) To promote the rehabilitation of the offender,

 (e) To make the offender accountable for his or her actions,

 (f) To denounce the conduct of the offender,

 (g) To recognise the harm done to the victim of the crime and the community.”

Enabling prisoners to make their rehabilitation effective through choice would merely articulate that there are differing objectives for different offenders.

Secondly CBT programs to be effective, support from private and non-prison personnel support are essential. Private and trusting environments are essential to allow prisoners to undertake cognitive changes and self-development. Treatment facilitators in this respect are important as they play a vital role in the creation of supportive and engaging environments for treatment delivery. Likewise non-prison personnel who are independent and unbiased are of utmost importance in creating these productive and therapeutic environments. A close examination of funding provided to corrective services for rehabilitation purposes is required, i.e. from the purchasing of criminogenic need assessment tests to employing program facilitators. Accountability mechanisms and transparency within corrective services is required.

Similarly, family and friends must be allowed physical access to provide support for the offenders who are undertaking rehabilitation. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, while CBT has shown to reduce re-offending during the first year after release, benefits of the program may not be maintained over a longer period. [23] This demonstrates that CBT is limited in providing a long lasting treatment for rehabilitating behaviour. However, arguably this finding merely demonstrates the need for ongoing CBT post release. Supportive non-professionals could potentially conduct such treatment.

Also for CBT programs to be effective the offenders must be equipped and surrounded in the right environment. For example computers in cells provide an additional access point whereby prisoners may receive support from family and friends and other supportive networks within the community. Computers can also allow prisoners to access CBT programs independently, and interact with CBT content through maintaining progress diaries, reading course content and completing homework.

4.2 Risk Needs Responsivity Model (RNR)

Treatment interventions that have demonstrated the largest net effects in reducing criminal recidivism adhere to the principles of the RNR. [24] As Olver, Stockdale, and Wormith describe:

“The risk principle states that the intensity of treatment should be matched to the risk level of the offender (e.g., high-risk offenders receive high-intensity services, low-risk offenders receive low-intensity services). The need principle states that effective treatment programs target aspects of the offender’s psychological, social, and emotional functioning that are linked to the development and continuation of criminal behaviour, known as criminogenic needs (e.g., attitudes supportive of crime, delinquent peers, substance abuse, unemployment). The responsivity principle states that effective offender treatment programs should be (a) cognitive behavioural in nature (i.e., general responsivity) and (b) tailored to the learning style, cognitive capabilities, motivation, personality, and cultural background of clientele (i.e., specific responsivity).”[25]

This reduction in recidivism when RNR is applied includes general [26] [27] violent [28], sexual,[29] and domestic violence[30] recidivism. However, recent developments in the Good Lives Model of treatment have lead proponents to suggest it be employed instead.

4.3 Good Lives Model (GLM)

The GLM differentiates itself from the RNR approach by making offender autonomy and self-determination paramount. A key assumption made within the GLM is that if an offender’s quality of life is improved, reoffending is less likely. By improving, “…skills, values, opportunities and social context,” offenders are better equipped to pursue their needs by more socially positive means. [31] Offenders participating in programs based on a GLM ideally ask themselves; “How can I live my life differently?” Once this level of motivation is achieved, plans and decisions are made by an engaged and autonomous individual rather than being based on the coercion of, “…reward and punishment.” [32]

Advocates of the GLM argue that it is the issue of motivation that highlights a departure from RNR models. Proponents of the latter hold that decreased motivation to engage in a program such as CBT is a criminogenic need, thus treatment should be tailored to suit this. A CBT program based on the tenants of the GLM would hold that low participant motivation is a hindrance to improvement that must be overcome before reoffending can be addressed. [33] Correctional staff and clinicians can use motivating interviewing techniques [34] at different stages of the offender’s sentence to encourage engagement based on the autonomous decisions making. It has been argued that while the RNR model encourages offenders to practice reflexivity, correctional staff fail to turn the lens on themselves and consider how they might change and improve their own practices. [35] This practice of external reflexivity by correctional staff is central to encouraging the motivation of inmates. Stressing the potential benefits of such a cultural shift, Farrall asks us to ‘‘…imagine the therapeutic atmosphere likely to be gained. Imagine the cumulative effect of (offenders) being surrounded by firm, fair, respectful empathic staff who are modeling pro-social behaviors every minute of their working day.’’[36]

While the theoretical strengths of the GLM are clear, it is not without its critics. Just as proponents of the GLM have criticised the lack of external responsivity shown in the ‘on-the-ground’ workings of RNR programs, it too may face the same obstacle. One must seriously question what the likelihood is of creating the utopian like cultural reform discussed by Farrall upon which the GLM relies on. In responding to criticisms of their RNR model, Andrews, Bonta and Wormith (2011) have also argued that when the recently revised GLM is closely examined, one can see very little clearly distinguished difference between what the workings of the GLM and what has already been developed and implemented under the RNR model.

4.4 Other CBT Principles

CBT itself incorporates a wide range of clinical interventions. According to Dobson and Khatri, the common element of these approaches is:

“An emphasis on broad human change, but with a clear emphasis on demonstrable, behavioural outcomes achieved primarily through changes in the way an individual perceives, reflects upon, and, in general, thinks about their life circumstances”.[37]

CBTs are designed to help clients become aware of thought processes that lead to maladaptive behavioural responses and to actively change those processes in a positive way. [38] CBTs employed among correctional populations have been conceptualised as cognitive-restructuring, coping-skills, or problem-solving therapies.[39] As Wilson, Bouffard and MacKenzie express:

“The cognitive-restructuring therapies view mental health problems as a consequence of maladaptive or dysfunctional thought processes, including cognitive distortions, misperceptions of social settings, and faulty logic. The coping-skills approaches focus on improving deficits in the ability to adapt to stressful situations.”[40]

Additionally, Fabiano, Porporino, and Robinson contended that offenders “lack interpersonal problem-solving skills, critical reasoning skills, and planning skills”. [41] Intrinsic to CBT is the theory that cognitive processes influence behaviour. In this sense, offences (such as sexual) are seen as a formed behavioural pattern, or the symptom, [42] attributable to the interaction between learning and reinforcement, maladaptive responses and coping mechanisms[43]. In other words, CBT views sexual offending as the product of interaction between a individual’s inner mechanics and the environment. [44] Cognitive distortions refer to biased ways which sexual offenders view their victims, so that they perceive the victim as cooperative or mitigate the extent of harm or distress inflicted upon them.[45]

4.5 Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT)

According to Wilson, Bouffard, and MacKenzie the two dominant CBTs for offenders that are structured as well as delivered in groups, are Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) and Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R & R). [46] MRT is a 12 to 16-step cognitive skills program conducted in a group setting, during which offenders focus on thinking errors. Prior to the common usage of the term “ego” in psychology in the 1930s, the term “conation” was employed to describe the conscious process of decision-making and purposeful behaviour. The term “Moral Reconation” was chosen for this system because the underlying goal was to change conscious decision-making to higher levels of moral reasoning. [47]

A typical MRT program aims to improve the social skills, morals, and behaviours of offenders. The program is clearly structured and comes with a manual of lessons and exercises. Sessions are conducted twice a week with groups of 10-15 offenders. Participants are given a workbook that contains a variety of exercises such as identifying one’s goals and exploring both the good and bad times in one’s life. These exercises enable offenders to gain more insight into the underlying reasons behind their behaviour.

4.6 Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R & R)

R & R is based on the idea that prisoners have cognitive and social deficits. However, unlike MRT, which focuses on moral reasoning, R & R focuses on strengthening self-control, critical reasoning, and values. The goal of R & R is to help offenders develop more pro-social and consistent attitudes and beliefs. A typical program runs over 8-12 weeks and is divided into 35 sessions. In each session, participants are involved in activities such as reasoning exercises, role-playing and group discussions.

5. The Use of CBT to Reduce Recidivism in the Offender Population

The debate surrounding the effectiveness of rehabilitation efforts for criminal offenders has transitioned from the rather pessimistic perspective of the 1970s and 1980s to an optimistic research-driven perspective. [48] A consistent theme in numerous reviews of the rehabilitation literature is the positive effects of CBT approaches to offender populations in reducing recidivism.[49]

5.1 Sex Offences

In NSW 2009-2010, child sex offences received an average sentence of 5.67 years and an average minimum sentence of 3.25 years [50]. In comparison, adult sex offences received an average sentence of 6.5 years and an average minimum sentence of 4 years [51]. With sex offenders receiving sentences that are often less than 7 years, it is important that there are behavioural modification programmes in place that address unacceptable sexual conduct.

A vast array of research has been conducted on the employment of CBT for people who have committed a sex offence. Hall conducted a meta-analysis of 92 published studies on sex offender treatment outcomes since 1988. [52] Hall concluded that CBT had significant effects in both community and institutional settings, the former being more effective. Higher recidivism rates were found in the majority of untreated (27%) samples when compared to treated (19%) samples. Furthermore, although CBT and hormonal treatments were not significantly different in their effectiveness in preventing recidivism, the results of the meta-analysis revealed that up to two thirds of participants refused hormonal treatment [53] and 50% who began with hormonal treatment discontinued it.[54] On the other hand, refusal and dropout rates for CBT are about one third.[55] This superior compliance rate suggests that the use of CBT has a distinct practical advantage. Hall and colleagues suggest that the differences in compliance rates may be due to the invasiveness of hormonal treatments (i.e. intramuscular injections) and their suppressant effect on not only deviant, but also appropriate forms of sexual arousal. [56]

Similarly, Maletzky and Steinhauser conducted 5-year follow-ups over 25 years of 7,275 sexual offenders in the United States who entered a CBT program. [57] The authors concluded that CBT for most offenders appeared effective when provided in individual and group therapy, as measured by self-reports, criminal records reviews, and, when available, by polygraph assessments. Furthermore, the authors stated that the outcomes appeared most positive among 'situational' offenders, such as child molesters and exhibitionists (< 10% overall recidivism rate), than in 'predatory' and 'preferential' offenders, such as homosexual paedophiles and rapists (16-22% overall recidivism rate). Recidivism rates increased with the duration of time after treatment. Participants terminating treatment prematurely had higher failure rates than those who did not. Thus, from the data the authors concluded that it appeared therapy was becoming increasingly successful over the 25-year span of the study. The authors suggested that this result could perhaps be a reflection of improved treatment techniques and increased sophistication in their use. These findings suggest the importance of the previous argument that market driven CBT programs are less likely to be effective, due to their diminished power of review.

Thus, there appears to be robust and converging empirical evidence that CBT is the most effective treatment to reduce recidivism in sex offenders (see also: Marshall & Serran; [58] Yates[59]; Brooks-Gordon, Bilby & Wells;[60] Looman, Dickie & Abracen;[61] Duwe & Goldman[62]).

5.2 General Offender Population

CBT has also been found to be one of the most effective treatments in reducing recidivism among criminal offenders of all types. The therapy is successful as it explicitly targets ‘criminal thinking’ as a factor contributing to deviant behaviour among criminal offenders. Criminal thinking occurs when offenders view themselves as the ‘victim’ of society and fail to see how their own behaviour has contributed to their problems.

CBT for offenders emphasises individual accountability and attempts to teach offenders skills to understand their thought process and the choices that influenced their criminal behaviour. Following this stage, offenders are taught techniques to identify risky thinking patterns and restructure their biased or distorted cognitive thinking. These techniques involve cognitive skills training, anger management and other supplementary components. Cognitive skills training aims to teach abstract thinking, critical reasoning, long-term planning and perspective taking. The Campbell Collaboration (an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions) conducted a meta-analysis of 58 studies examining the effects of CBT on recidivism among criminal offenders. The results of the study found that 12 months after receiving CBT, the probability of not re-offending was 1.53 times greater for those treated when compared to those untreated. These findings provide further support demonstrating the usefulness and effectiveness of CBT among offenders. [63]

One especially optimistic finding is that CBT is also generally well received among those offenders who participate in it. [64] Treatment facilitators may be the deciding factor in the success of a program. For example, treatment facilitators who exhibit poor performance during program delivery, or who cannot engage and motivate the offender may prevent bringing about change in their clients. Thus, therapists should be warm, open-minded, and enthusiastic, use pro-social models, and be empathetic and skilled in treatment delivery. [65]

6. How is CBT Currently Being Implemented in our Prison System?

Cognitive behavioural group-work is recognised as the most therapeutic and cost effective means of delivering rehabilitation services to both male and female offenders, and is the basis of offender programs both nationally and internationally. [66] CBT has also been described as being among the more promising rehabilitative treatments for criminal offenders.[67] In light of this, some offenders are unable to make use of CBT due to a short sentence or lengthy waiting list. Overall, CBT in correctional settings consist of highly structured treatments that are detailed in manuals and typically delivered to groups of 8 to 12 individuals in classroom-like settings. [68] Individualised one-on-one CBT, provided by clinical psychologists or other mental health workers, is simply not practical on a large scale within our prison system.[69]

6.1 Treatment for People Charged With a Sex Offence

In Australia, most treatment programs for people who have committed a sex offence are based on overseas models that use CBT-based methods to target the criminogenic needs of offenders, such as the MRT and R & R models described above. [70]

Figure 1 lists adult sex offender treatment programs currently operating in Australia: [71]


Figure1. Sex Offender Programs Operating in Australian Prisons

In NSW, the Custody Based Intensive Treatment (CUBIT) program operates for moderate-high risk sex offenders, and the CUBIT Outreach (CORE) program operates for low risk sex offenders. Both programs are prison-based and target the known risk factors for sexual re-offending such as empathy deficits, cognitive distortions and general self-regulation. [1] Hoy and Bright[2] conducted an evaluation of the CUBIT programs. They found that those treated had a recidivism rate of 8.5% in a follow-up period of 3.75 years compared with the predicted rate of 26%.

CUBIT is a residential therapy program at Metropolitan Special Program Centre (MSPC) accommodating 40 moderate and/or high-risk sex offenders. Participants are required to take responsibility for their offending behaviour; identify their offending cycle; examine victim issues; and develop a relapse-prevention plan. CORE currently runs at Kirkconnell and is a program that targets the core issues common to sex offenders – it is a non-residential therapy program for lower risk sex offenders who continue their regular institutional activities (e.g. education, work release). CORE runs in a group format and can be run 2 half days per week (5 months in length) or one half day per week (10 months in length).

CUBIT psychologists have undertaken a number of projects examining whether treatment is leading to changes in dynamic risk factors (i.e., changes in criminogenic needs). To date the research has found that sex offender treatment programs (i.e., CUBIT/CORE) were effective in targeting inadequate coping strategies, attitudes and beliefs condoning sexual violence. Offenders who had completed treatment had significantly reduced their use of sexual coping around abusive themes and offence specific and general cognitive distortions. [3] Thus, the current rehabilitation efforts in NSW targeting sexual offending are highly promising.

6.2 General Offender Population

CBT principles have also been applied to the general offender population in Australia. Offender treatment programs that target cognitive skills training are now a common feature (implemented or planned) in every Australian correctional management strategy. Most jurisdictions have developed detailed program manuals, which include detailed theoretical and empirical rationales, descriptions of therapeutic principles and notes for facilitators involved with individual sessions. [4] Figure 2 lists the cognitive skills programs currently being administered in Australian prisons. [5]


Figure 2. Cognitive Skills Programs Operating in Australian Prisons

The Think First program was implemented in five NSW correctional centres between 2003 and 2007. An evaluation of the program revealed a significant change in pro-social direction with completion of Think First improving impulsivity levels, criminal thinking styles and some aspects of social problem solving ability. [1] The aim of Think First is to help group members develop their skills for thinking about problems and for solving them in real life situations, and to apply these skills to the problem of offence behaviour and reduce the risk of re-offending. Content includes social problem-solving skills, self-management and self-control, social behaviour and social interaction skills, values, beliefs, and attitudes. [2]

Nearly half (47%) of all sentenced prisoners in Australia are in custody for violent crimes. [3] Like sex offender programs and cognitive skills programs aimed at general offenders, violent offender programs within Australia are also underpinned by cognitive behavioural strategies and target a wide range of criminogenic needs. Violent offenders routinely undertake an offence-specific assessment to determine program suitability, typically involving a structured clinical assessment and the use of psychometric assessment tools to assess their level of risk and criminogenic needs. Readiness and responsivity are also routinely assessed. [4] Figure 3 lists the violent offender programs used in Australia.


Figure 3. Violent Offender Programs Operating in Australian Prisons

The objective of the NSW Violent Offenders Therapeutic Program (VOTP) is to reduce further violent offending by developing pro-social behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. VOTP involves cognitive behavioural treatment delivered in a residential setting. [1]

7. Can Non-Professionals Deliver CBT-based Programs?

A report published in 2011 by the Australian Institute of Criminology provides an updated account of the nature and scope of custodial-based offender rehabilitation programs in Australia. [2] The report found that formal training and professional qualification are central qualities to facilitators of CBT-based programs used in the Australian offender population. Clients within correctional settings are required to attend such programs as part of their sentence. Much emphasis has been placed on the counsellor’s role and counsellor-client relationship in determining the success of CBT-based interventions. However, this poses the question of how offenders, once released from correctional centres such as prisons, can continue developing coping skills and focus on pro-social skill building in order to live in harmony within their community, engage in behaviours that contribute to positive outcomes in society, and avoid re-offending. Since CBT involves the use of practical self-help strategies, it would appear essential for offenders to continue working on responsible patterns of thinking and behaving, empathy building, victim awareness and developing attitudes that focus on responsibility towards others and concern for their safety and welfare. More importantly, it is vital for ex-offenders to have a strong network of family and peer-support, thus it would be extremely valuable if CBT-strategies were available to be utilised by non-professional members of the community.

7.1 CBT Programs Used Overseas

In the international arena, particularly in the U.S.A, the six primary CBT programs most widely utilised within the criminal justice system (similar to NSW’s CUBIT/CORE, Think First and VOTP programs) are: Aggression Replacement Training (ART); Criminal Conduct and Substance Abuse Treatment; Strategies for Self-Improvement and Change (SSC); Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT); Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R & R); Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT) and Thinking for a Change (T4C).[3] ART, SSC, MRT, R & R, and RPT all require facilitators to undergo professional training by attending training seminars or workshops, and/or completing additional hours of study. Thinking for a Change (T4C) on the other hand, is available online and training for facilitators includes a 2-day curriculum along with a PowerPoint presentation, an in-depth manual for how the T4C program is utilised (including an overview of Cognitive Self Change, the Thinking Report, Cognitive Check-ins; delivery of the program, case management, program standards, and administrative procedures; admission, discharge, and transfer procedures; group delivery, program management, and supervision; and helpful forms and program memoranda), and a 32-hour training program designed to teach the theoretical foundations of CBT and specifically the basic components of T4C, including cognitive self-change, social skills, problem solving, and implementation of the program. Figure 4 below gives an overview of the T4C program.

CogTherapy Figure4 2

Figure 4. Overview of Thinking for a Change (T4C) Program

7.2 Effectiveness of Thinking for a Change (T4C)

Two evaluations have been conducted on the effectiveness of T4C. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre conducted a study using 42 adult male and female high-risk offenders on probation. The offenders, who completed the T4C program, as well as those who dropped out, were compared to a control group that did not take part in the program. The variables included social skills, interpersonal problem-solving skills and pro-criminal attitudes. The study found that recidivism rates were 33% lower for the treatment group than the control group. Offenders who completed the program also showed a significant improvement in interpersonal problem-solving skills while no improvement was observed for those who dropped out. The second evaluation, conducted in Indiana, examined 233 probationers and found a significant reduction in recidivism over an average of 26 months for those who participated (18%) compared with those who did not (35%). [1]

The strength of T4C is that, unlike the other five dominant CBT programs currently used in the U.S criminal justice system, and the CBT-based offender rehabilitation programs currently being used in Australian correctional settings, T4C emphasises the role that family and members of the community, as well as offenders themselves, can play in implementing CBT techniques and strategies outside of a professional context. Evidence shows that cognitive and behavioural change occurs more readily when individuals have the self-motivation to improve. [2] Since T4C does not require facilitators to have any specific credentials or education, it is community rather than institution based, thus may motivate individuals to voluntarily seek positive change in their lives upon their release.

Drawing from a comprehensive range of empirical evidence, the current paper asserts the view that CBT programs have significant benefits for individuals in the prison system; including improving interpersonal, pro-social and coping skills and other cognitive skills that are aimed at reducing recidivism. However, in Australia, emphasis on the counsellor’s role and counsellor-client relationship in determining the success of CBT-based interventions has limited these programs to an institutional role. As a result, while demonstrably effective in correctional settings, these programs are unable to help individuals, who on their own accord and/or with peer/family support are motivated to continue working on responsible patterns of thinking and behaving once they are released from prison. This has major implications for the rehabilitative process when considering the finding that the risk of recidivism increases with the duration of time after treatment. The T4C program however, has provided a solution for this problem by providing a CBT-based program that is readily accessible online and can be operated by non-professional members of the community such as family and peers.

For the Australian offender population, T4C provides the tools to take pro-social action and change their offending ways in instances where CBT-based programs may not be as flexible or accessible. The program was developed to be appropriate for a wide-range of offender groups. In the U.S, it has been used with juvenile and adult offenders, and has been implemented in all phases of the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems including probation, in prisons and jails, as well as in the community (i.e. aftercare and parole). The format of T4C is designed so that sessions are accessible and meaningful for offenders of varying social, emotional and intellectual/academic abilities. The self-insight and interpersonal skills offenders learn in this program are also applicable to other treatment programs. Due to the success and effectiveness of T4C in the U.S, this paper recommends that programs such as T4C receive greater awareness in Australia in order to assist ex-offenders and their transition to community life.

8. Conclusion

This paper has outlined a proposal for a new approach to implementing CBT within a prison context. It has been argued that CBT should be accessible by choice to offenders at all stages from their arrest to reintegration into society. The coercive nature of current rehabilitation approaches to prisoners is counter-productive to supporting prisoners through personal decisions to change and improve themselves.

Programs should be facilitated in a safe, private and trusting environment where participants can freely engage in positive change and development. With many programs being available online, computers offer a revolutionary step in how offenders may access and interact with programs and program material. Consequently, the proposals in this paper act in conjunction with those of the Computers in Cells publication. Support people were identified as important players in offender rehabilitation. Families and friends must have access to prisoners to assist in the rehabilitation process. Rehabilitation programs must be culturally appropriate, particularly for Aboriginal people.

T4C provides a model that tackles some of the weaknesses and limitations of Australia’s current rehabilitation approach to offenders. It would be beneficial to adapt a similar model in our Australian criminal justice system.


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 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW).


Restorative Justice

Restorative justice aims to mediate and reconcile tensions between offenders, victims and the community in a humanising way. It enables stakeholders to cooperate and come to an agreement on appropriate outcomes at different stages of the criminal process, not just in the pre-trial process. By separating the offense and the person, restorative justice relies on forgiveness and self-reflection to help rehabilitate the offender. This helps a smooth reintegration into society for all parties involved. Examples of restorative justice are forum sentencing and Aboriginal circle sentencing.  

Click here for full report



Earning Early Release

Punishment for The Past, Training for The Future


Draft Paper 29.06.2012 download here

Prisoners expressed that they felt helpless awaiting the end of their sentence, suggesting remission as an incentive for self-improvement and to successfully re-enter the community.

1.  Introduction

2.  What is Remission?

3.  Psychology of Remission

4.  History of Remission: Maconochie’s “Marks System”

5.  Other forms of Remission

6.  Benefits of Remission

7.  Problems with Remission

8.  Australia

9.  Intenational Examples

     -  Canada

     -  United States

     -  United Kingdom

     -  Northern Ireland

     -  Republic of Ireland

10.  Conclusion


It is part of human existence to have the opportunity to strive towards a goal that will provide benefits in return. The prospect of earning freedom provides an important incentive for individuals who have lost their liberty to improve themselves and also to cooperate with the system. To remove that opportunity is inhumane and leaves them demoralised, passive and liable to be institutionalised. This boredom and passivity often leaves prisoners with nothing for stimulation but violence and drugs, and does nothing to prepare them for life on the outside. Unfortunately, political attempts to appear tough on crime have led to a political agenda that resonates with the dark ages.

“Remissions”, "earned release” and “good time credits” refer to the structured system that aims to encourage self-improvement and positive behaviour in prisoners. This brings hope and a positive outlook to prisoners before and after release, allowing them to better adapt and equip for life outside of prison. It gives them a sense of responsibility and direction in life, thus converting them from passive recipients of punishment to active participants in their own lives. Earned release also benefits the system by giving it greater control over the prisoner, saving money and preventing prison over-population.

This research paper discusses the benefits and problems surrounding remissions within the prison system, particularly the wide array of benefits in reducing recidivism and improving prison management. It also presents historical, local and international experiences of earned release. Also, a psychological explanation of why remission systems within prisons work will be presented.

The use of remissions has fluctuated over recent years, sometimes resulting in the disillusionment and loss of public faith in it. An historically significant example was the experience of the Norfolk Island penal colony in the 1830s, where penal reformer Alexander Maconochie used the first remission system in Australia. This colony housed the worst of the worst reoffenders from both the United Kingdom and Australia’s penal colony. Interestingly, the recidivism rate among this group after progressing through the remission system was just 2%, significantly lower than today’s 40%. Mental and physical improvements in inmates were an undeniable effect of the system.

International earned release programs have been expanded successfully in recent years through legislation. In Canada, the system is heavily focused on rehabilitation and community reintegration, which has benefits for both the former prisoner and safety of the community. The United States operates on a credit point system that provides specific goals prisoners can work towards. Australia, on the other hand, has reduced opportunities for earned release.

Consideration of prior evidence shows that earned release programs are highly useful in addressing overcrowding, high costs, low morale and recidivism. Because it aids in improving the psychological mindset of prisoners, it produces a compelling incentive for prisoners to behave cooperatively and positively while in prison. It effectively allows them the opportunity to take their future into their own hands with the prospect of freedom as the reward.

Remission is the reduction of the term of a prison sentence, usually due to good behaviour or conduct. It refers to a structured system with criteria for prisoners to meet in order to encourage good behaviour, rehabilitation and self-improvement, with the ultimate benefit being the release of the prisoner.

The motivation for a penal system involving remission arises from the belief that a prisoner’s desire for self-improvement would be significantly increased if their conduct directly affected their prison-term, effectively placing their fate into their own hands. Operant conditioning is a model of learning that has received extensive application and empirical scrutiny. This model is based on over 50 years of empirical science, which has demonstrated that virtually all voluntary and most emotional overt behaviors are significantly influenced by their contingent consequences and the surrounding environmental context in which they occur.“[1]

Operant conditioning is a term coined in psychology that refers to a method of behavioural modification. [2] Operant conditioning techniques utilise the introduction or removal of reinforcement or punishment stimulus. Reinforcement and punishment can be applied either positively (addition) or negatively (subtraction). Positive reinforcement is when a desired behaviour results in the introduction of a positive stimulus, whereas negative reinforcement refers to the removal of an aversive stimulus.[3] Conversely, positive punishment is when a non-desired behaviour receives an aversive stimulus, whereas negative punishment is where a positive stimulus is removed.[4] This form of behavioural therapy has proven successful across a range of behavioural problems and disorders.[5]

Remission systems utilise operant conditioning principles. The desired behaviour, in this case good behaviour, is reinforced through negative reinforcement, i.e. the reduction of one’s sentence. The success operant conditioning has had on behavioural modification suggests that remission systems could play a pivotal role in prisons.

Captain Alexander Maconochie, a notable Norfolk Island Prison Governor and penal reformer, first proposed a system of remission in the nineteenth century based on the principle that prisoners’ liberation should be dependent on their own efforts, not solely upon the lapse of time,[6] and that prison sentences should be reformative in order to prepare prisoners to re-enter into society.[7] When men’s minds are raised to the idea that their daily or even hourly conduct may have an influence on their ultimate liberation, they are in a much more improvable state – they have a stronger motive to resist temptation, and stronger inducements to regular exertion.[8] Maconochie’s system was extremely successful with less than 2% of the 920 prisoners discharged under his supervision found to reoffend,[9] and his principles were so revolutionary that Canberra’s newest prison, built to reform not punish, and labelled as Australia’s first human rights prison,[10] has been named the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Maconochie introduced a ‘mark system’ where prisoners’ respective sentences, conduct, and character were factored in to award, fine or deny marks, which could be traded for indulgences and ultimately, one’s release.[11] Prisoners also formed themselves into messes of six where they were responsible for each other’s conduct, with the group gaining or losing marks according to the behaviour of each.[12] Through Maconochie’s remission system, punishment for crime became less vindictive, and greater emphasis was placed on strengthening a prisoner’s desire and capacity to observe social constraints.[13] The system of earning marks and trading them for indulgences and ultimately a prisoner’s release also encouraged the development of good practices, such as nurturing industrious habits and frugality.[14] Thus, Maconochie’s system was tailored to ensure that prisoners were ‘trained for the future’[15], so that they would be able to contribute to society in a positive way upon release.

The uniqueness of Maconochie’s system has been summarised into five distinct characteristics as it:

  • Placed individual reform of prisoner over deterrent or retributive objectives
  • Advocated task sentences rather than time sentences
  • Introduced a marks system where prisoners were awarded for achievements, fined for misconduct, and rations an indulgences could be purchased
  • Encompassed a two stage sentence: punitive stage and reformative or moral training stage
  • Introduced a new object and spirit to whole penal system.[16]

Remission has been granted for external factors in the past, such as strikes by prison wardens or royal visits. Strikes by prison wardens saw prisoners neglected and mistreated, and as such, their sentences were shortened in compensation. Prisoners were also granted remissions by monarchs, who could exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy. This was seen as a symbol and exampled by the State of mercy and generosity. Prisoners were granted remissions as a result of visits by Her Majesty the Queen to New South Wales in 1970, 1973 and 1977.[17]

The Nagle Royal Commission Report 1978 stated, “the object of the remissions system is to provide an incentive to good behaviour by the inmates and a rehabilitative effect on prisoners working towards a goal”.[18] Remissions give prisoners a chance to change and hope, rebuilding their family.[19] It is a recommendation of encouraging prisoners to take on co-operative behaviour.[20] In societal perspective, remissions can solve overcrowding in prison and break down the cycle of recidivism for long-term good.[21] It also provides prison management with an additional tool - to reduce the number of conflicts they can exercise of granting and removing time left on the prisoner’s sentence.

Introducing a remissions system can also be seen as a cost-saving mechanism. In the United States, remissions work under a system called “good time” credits, which operate both at the Federal and State levels. With respect to good-time credits, the US Department of Justice’s fiscal 2012 strategy paper explains:

“The Administration will transmit legislative proposals to amend the statutes

governing federal inmate good conduct time credit. The proposed legislation will continue providing inmates with incentives for good behavior as well as to participate in programming that is proven to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. The proposed sentencing reforms include (1) an increase in the amount of credit an inmate can earn for good behavior, and (2) a new sentence reduction credit, which inmates can earn for participation in education and vocational programming. If enacted before FY 2012, these changes could result in significant cost avoidance, potentially up to (US)$41.0 million in FY 2012, by slowing the rate of the federal inmate prison population growth.”[22]

 More specifically, the Oregon Secretary of State Audit Report estimated that for inmates released in fiscal year 2009, earned time saved at least (US)$25 million based on the average daily cost per inmate.[23]

The principle of ‘Truth in Sentencing’ was raised in 1989 in NSW as the main concern regarding a system of remission, as it was described as deceptive to the layperson. Most people would assume that when a judge sentenced a prisoner to a term of imprisonment that would be the amount of time the prisoner would serve. However, with remission, prisoners understood the reduced sentence to be their maximum sentence, as any loss of remission would only result from disciplinary action an extra punishment. Therefore, the ‘Truth in Sentencing’ movement sought to ensure prisoners served the full amount of time they were sentenced to, rather than a mere portion, and then being released on parole or remission.[24]

A remission system also raised issues of favoritism and inconsistency in individual approaches as prison officers would be heavily relied upon for reports and feedback on the behaviour and performance of prisoners.

Lastly, there is the issue of corruption regarding remission. In 1987, NSW Minister for Corrective Services Rex Jackson was sentenced for taking bribes to secure the early-release of prisoners.[25] He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, and served 3 years until being released early.

In 2006, the Law Council of Australia expressed its support of a system of earned remission in its submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission discussion paper,[26] stating that where a prisoner behaved particularly well in prison and demonstrated real rehabilitation, then there should be a mechanism available to reduce the non-parole period.[27] A 2006 report by the Australian Law Reform Commission[28] supported in principle a system of earned remissions, but conceded that it would be difficult to implement on a federal level due to differing state laws. The report quoted a federal offender as saying:

 “Remissions must be re-implemented to assist the rehabilitative process and to encourage good behaviour. It also allows the offender to be released without being imprisoned for longer than absolutely necessary. One must consider the point in time in an offender’s sentence where the sentence stops being rehabilitative and starts to become detrimental to a person’s psychological wellbeing. It would be in interest of society to release a rehabilitated offender from prison rather than an offender who has been profoundly affected by an excessively long sentence.”[29]

The Nagle Royal Commission conducted in 1976-1978 recommended that NSW adopt a remission system where all remissions should be earned, and any remissions should be taken off both head sentence and the non-parole period.[30] It considered that the system introduced in Victoria in 1975 should be adopted in New South Wales, suggesting further that it is based on the system that Alexander Maconochie introduced on Norfolk Island.[31] The Commission considered that the system was worthwhile, but more emphasis should be placed on providing a proper incentive to the prisoner.[32] This recommendation was adopted and provided prisoners proper incentive to work hard, behave well, and strive towards self-improvement, until it was repealed in 1989.[33] One effect of the elimination of all forms of remission is that sentences have become longer and overcrowding in prisons has worsened since, in removing remissions, the Government has severely limited its options for managing the size of the prison population.[34]

Although Australia does not currently have its own remissions system, they are widespread throughout the world. Under labels such as earned remission, early release, supervised release or reduction credits, similar schemes have been implemented in common law countries including Canada, the United Sates and the United Kingdom.


Earned Remission is available to all provincial offenders in Canada. Essentially, prisoners may ‘earn’ early release at a rate of up to 15 days each month of good behaviour.[35] Emphasis is placed on community reintegration as the Prisons and Reformatories Act defines good behaviour as ‘obeying prison rules and conditions governing temporary absence and by actively participating in programs…designed to promote prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration.’[36] This was shaped by the Corrections Planning Committee’s classification system, which significantly influence hierarchical standards, depending on security threat in statutory remissions and earned remissions.[37]

Canada has one of the most effective remissions programs in the world. It strikes a considerable balance between the need to encourage better behaviour for prisoners while at the same time ensuring protection where needed for members in society. For example, courts ensured that forfeiture of remissions would depend on civil and criminal misconduct, especially when repeating offences. This includes lack of adherence to internal prison rules. This is in contrast to merely disobeying external regulations. In R v Casserly, the Ontario Province Court stated that unless the Prisons and Reformatories Act does not explicitly indicate that failure to comply with external fines while serving sentence will suspend eligibility for remissions, one is still entitled if well behaved or better, reformed.[38] It follows that whoever is able to comply with standards set forth in legislation while in prison; they are able to earn remissions.

Canada has very recently pushed to emphasise public safety, while at the same time stressing the need for earned remissions rather than statutory remissions in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.[39] Earned remissions have been found to ensure greater public safety, by reforming and reintegrating prisoners back into society, and in doing so, maintains rights of the individual. In order to stimulate greater success in reintegration, in its report: ‘A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety,’ it recommended improving physical infrastructure to ensure a more sensitive, nurturing prison environment, and developing employability, employment skills through social skills training, improve problem solving and comprehension.[40]

This is to be supplemented by adequate safeguards such as increasing the monitoring of prisoners in their progress, raising their accountability, and providing more communication with victim. Such an Earned Remissions approach not only ensures relatively greater public safety by encouraging the perpetrator to participate in reintegration, it involves the victim and enhances the individual’s right to liberty and life.

United States:

A system based on reduction credit points operates in the United States. Federal prisoners sentenced to more than one year of imprisonment (excluding those with terms of life imprisonment) can receive credit of up to 54 days for each year served.[41] Credits are awarded on the basis of fulfilling desired behaviour including work attendance, program participation, cooperation, personal hygiene and education/vocational training. However, in October 2003, the Literacy, Education and Rehabilitation Bill was introduced in attempts of increasing the credit days up to 180 per year. The purpose of the bill was to promote public safety by offering constructive incentives for exemplary institutional adjustment while at the same time increasing educational standards and decreasing the overall cost of corrections.[42] Unfortunately however, this bill was not passed.

Most states also have sentence credit policies applicable to inmates in state prisons. There are two types of credits – earned time and “good time.” Earned time is a credit against an inmate’s sentence that the inmate earns for participation in or completion of productive activities. Good time credits are given to inmates for following prison rules and required participation in activities. At least 38 states offer earned time credits. Education and work provide the most common opportunity for earned time. At least 32 states give good time credits.[43]

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the trend nationwide is toward increasing the availability of sentence credits. Between 2001 and 2010, at least five states expanded good time credits.[44] This is arguably due to the promising results found from existing merit programs through various states. For example, in New York, between October 1997 and December 2005, the 21,200 inmates released due to Merit Time approval had a return to custody rate that was the next to lowest rate of all of the comparison groups. Specifically, inmates with a merit approval that were released prior to their Parole Eligibility date returned at a rate of 11 % within the first year. All other releases returned at a rate of 18% within the first year.[45] The Washington State Institute for Public Policy also found that a 2003 legislature increasing earned release time (for eligible non-violent property and drug offenders) from a maximum of 33% of the total sentence to a maximum 50%, saw a 3.5% decrease in recidivism over a three-year follow up of early release offenders.[46]

In 2007 Kansas adopted a package of measures designed to control the growth of incarceration while keeping communities safe. This included a 60-day earned credit for offenders for the successful completion of one of four programs: substance abuse treatment; a general education diploma; a technical or vocational training program; or any program the secretary of corrections believes will reduce a given inmate’s risk of violating the conditions governing his/her eventual release. Since these reforms took effect, a 35% decrease in crime among parolees who participated in these programs became apparent. Along with this came a 45% reduction in parole revocations.[47]

On April 9, 2008 President Bush had signed the Second Chance Act of 2007, which related to Omnibus’s Crime Control and Street Safety Act of 1968. [48] Although it does not have description on remission, it suggested that providing an opportunity for prisoners to learn (eduction) and use their time productively (computer uses in cells and job training) could actually help to reduce recidivism (10% reduction in the rate of recidivism over a two years period) [49] and long-term solution for prison population.

A stated reason for the use of remission as set under the California and Washington Early Release Programs is reducing problems of overcrowding and budget constraints. Remissions do naturally play a role in decreasing prison populations, especially when there is a given quota set under a law, hence statutory remissions. Such an approach has been subject to great controversy, as it is a quantity based, rather than a behavioural approach. The California Penal Code s 4019[50] and Washington Senate Bill 5990[51] indicates that working in prisons enables one to pay off fines and as part of the credit reduction scheme, reduce sentences. This would apply to most state prisoners. A very basic criterion applies in terms of earned remissions, as it focuses on the labour of the individual rather than their reformation.

Earned Release Programs (ERP) on the other hand, enable much greater flexibility for the prisoners to enhance themselves and become less of a societal threat. Alcohol, drug treatment, dependency, addiction, relapse prevention, rational behaviour training, responsible decision making and restorative justice concepts are all catered for as part of earned release training.[52] These programs have recently been introduced in Wisconsin and Mississippi, whereby the Bureau of Offender Classification and Movement select eligible offenders. Excluded offenders include: life imprisoned, habitual, sexual, escapee or attempted escapee, and those that have not served their mandatory time in prison.[53] Even though these schemes do not incorporate all prisoners, it nonetheless serves as a developed means to improving the outlook for prisoners and crime reduction.


United Kingdom:
In England and Wales, traditional good-time remission was replaced with the Early Prisoner Release Scheme in 2007 when there were barely 100 beds available across the entire prison system.[54] Put simply, the Scheme was essentially based on necessity due to prison overcrowding rather than reform and rehabilitation. In fact, the UK was so reliant on early release to the point where two men convicted of terrorism were released early in 2008 in order to address prison over crowding.[55] Politicians have not independently expressed any humanitarian principles for the early release of prisoners because when 2500 spare beds were present in February 2010, prisoners lost entitlement to the scheme and the scheme was abolished. Such a demand based approach lacks incentives for better behaviour, and could explain the relatively greater rates of recidivism in the UK.[56]

However, even though the remissions and Early Prisoner Release Schemes have been abolished, the parole system has expanded significantly with conditional release available to prisoners once they have served half of their sentence. Those serving sentences of more than one year may be released early on license, where an offender is able to serve the remainder of their sentence while living in the community and adhering to specific guidelines. Early release is capped at 20% of the original sentence and is earned through cooperation and positive good behaviour in prison. [57]

Evidently, it can be said that prison is inefficient for less serious offences as it is very costly, and clearly there is an overcrowding issue that needs to be addressed. Early release programs based on good behaviour would cost less, and give the offender the opportunity for growth and reform in prison as opposed to merely serving their time. Overcrowding is one of the underlying factors precipitating violence within prisons. We should adopt a humanitarian approach and aim to reform and rehabilitate low-risk prisoners, especially juveniles. This can be achieved with the aid of remissions programs.

Northern Ireland:

Prisoners in Northern Ireland are entitled to remission at a rate of 50%. Remission is accessed based on principles of good behaviour, and is in fact attained by the vast majority. Former Security Minister Paul Goggin did however suggest a tightening of rules regarding those released earlier, in making releases conditional.[58]

Even though under the Criminal Justice Order 2008, the 50% requirement still exists, those serving sentences of 12 months or more, as well as dangerous/sexual offences are treated differently. If released earlier, under s 23(1) of the order, the court is able to make recommendations of conditional release, subject to treatment, restrictions and supervision for those sentenced greater than 12 months or greater for any offence in prison.[59]

This is to the exclusion of those who are serving life sentences or who have been convicted for sex offences.[60]Under the Criminal Justice Order 2008, s14 (3), a sex offender aged above 21 is to be kept in prison throughout their sentence or equivalent and maybe subject to an extended period as well.[61] For those serving indeterminate period or an extended period, as per section 18(1), the parole commission is unable to consider remission, unless the secretary of state has made a recommendation after the prisoner has served the required minimum sentence under s13.[62]

Paul Goggins, the Northern Ireland Security Minister, stipulated that the provisions are mainly intended for violent, dangerous and/or sexual offenders. In an interview with BBC, he stated that those who commit minor offences, although would likely have conditioned releases, will largely be free, except to serve re-integrative roles in the community: “Viable alternatives such as unpaid work.”[63]

Such conditional releases proportional to the quantity and nature of offences is a reflection of Northern Ireland being a small, close-knit community. In the journal ‘Remission Revision’, Northern Ireland legal researcher Rosemary Craig highlights how the numbers of prisons are declining from 5 in the 1970s with Northern Ireland’s population being under 1.5 million people to three with 1.75 million people, implying this is unsustainable.[64] Craig failed to regard the fact that crimes have declined since then, in which remissions, as a recidivism-reducing tool, has played a positively correlated.

Craig used two examples in which sex offenders had been released earlier. One isn’t noted to have repeated an offence, while the other went on to commit murder. This produced a massive public outcry, which reflected the subsequent amendments made under Criminal Justice Order 2008. However, these examples appear to be exceptions and as indicated above, provisions have been made for serious offenders to have more restrictions and monitoring imposed on them. The Journal does not refute the correlation between remissions and lower recidivism. Notwithstanding, it conveys the most fundamental barrier to greater remissions, concern for public morale. Combining this with views of Paul Goggin, it does highlight the link between the mass public pressure and political servitude as well.

Republic of Ireland:
In Ireland remission is viewed as a right accessible to all prisoners, to the exclusion of those with sentences of life or of less than one month. A sentence may be reduced by as much as a quarter, depending on ‘good conduct’ whilst in prison. In certain circumstances, where a prisoner has undergone specially approved activities that are seen to have the effect of reducing the prisoner’s likelihood of re-offending, the remission rate may be increased to one third. Alternatively, remission may be cancelled in part as disciplinary punishment. [65]

Remissions in Ireland serve an economic purpose. They provide jobs for many teachers, security officers and researchers, while alleviating excess prison crowding. Researchers are especially able to observe the general trend of training practices and rules and their success in reforming prisoners. Barrister Paul Anthony McDermott conveyed that prisoners’ remissions entitlement is an economic decision built upon addressing the need to reduce prison crowding. He expressed criticism on the issue that lack of funding is occurring in rehabilitative practices.[66] This means that many offenders, such as sex offenders, who may still be subject to remission by good behaviour, may be released earlier without access to rehabilitative practices.

Promising signs have been shown for further reform to incorporate such rehabilitative practices. A significant need is expressed that for or both prisoners and social members, there is to be greater assurance made for public safety via application of re-integrative practices. Minister for Justice and Law Reform Dermot Ahern displayed willingness for a follow up report that thoroughly addresses need to stimulate funding in rehabilitation programs for the sake of ensuring public safety. Hence, Public safety and Individual rights are integrated. [67]

It is inhumane to remove all control from a prisoner’s life. By allowing them a chance at affecting their own fates, remission brings hope to the lives of vulnerable and will make it easier for prisoners to adapt when they are released. The option of remission encourages building required skills for such adaptation, progress and prosperity in life, all core factors that will enable a free and just life to be lived.

The legacy of Alexander of Maconochie can only be built upon in transforming remission systems locally, state wide, nationally, and internationally. The concept of revenge via retribution in society may perhaps be changed in its very nature into being more nurturing, rehabilitative, and understanding of the root causes of why prisoners are the way they are.

Significant recognition has been made by the Law Council of Australia regarding the importance of remissions as a tool to reform prisoner lives. This has been preceded by the Nagle Royal Commission that illustrated need to encourage productivity among prisoners to work towards goals rather than merely being patient and affording lack of effort in reforms.

In implementing a wide ranging remissions system in all states and federally, Australia will be accompanied by similar movements among fellow Anglophonic nations including Canada, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States. This will help to ensure Australia is amongst the leading and influential nations in the field of prisoner reforms.


 [1] Sanders, S. (2003) Operant therapy with pain patients: evidence for its effectiveness, Seminars in Pain Medicine, 1(2), 90-98

[2] Passer, M., & Smith, R. (2007) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. McGraw-Hill: New York.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] John Clay, Maconochie’s Experiment (John Murray Publishers Ltd, London, 2001) 12.

[7] Ibid 145.

[8] Ibid 164.

[9] Ibid 249.

[10] Richard Aedy, Life Matters, ABC National Radio, Wed 23 June 2010, <http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/the-alexander-maconochie-centre-australias-first/3033926>.

[12] John Clay, Maconochie’s Experiment (John Murray Publishers Ltd, London, 2001) 146.

[13] John V. Barry, Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘Alexander Maconochie’, <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/maconochie-alexander-2417>.

[14] Ibid.

[15] John Clay, Maconochie’s Experiment (John Murray Publishers Ltd, London, 2001) 75.

[17] Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons (1978) 461.

[18] Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons (1978) 247-249.

[19] Public Law 110-199 – April 9 2008, 122 STAT 657-694.

[20] Daly, Israel Goldsmith, Remission programs, ‘Ch.16 Prison and Imprisonment, Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology’ (3rd Ed 2006) 340.

[21] Public Law 110-199 – April 9 2008, 122 STAT 657-694.

[22] Jeff Ifrah, Jeffrey Hamlin, The Recessions effect on Federal Prison Sentences, Los Angeles Daily Journal, 2 March 2011, found at http://crimeinthesuites.com/the-recessions-effect-on-federal-prison-sentences/,19; Rachel Simpson, Parole: An Overview, New South Wales Library Research Service (1999) 8.

[23] Guy G. Cherry, Claire E. Rossmark, Maryland Dimunition Credit System, Department of Legislative Services, Office of Policy Analysis Annapolis, Maryland, December 2011.
[24] Ibid.

[25] Whitton, Evan, Can of Worms II, <http://netk.net.au/Whitton/Worms20.asp>.

[26] Australian Law Reform Commission, ALRC Discussion Paper 70: Sentencing of Federal Offenders, Law Council of Australia, 17 March 2006, <https://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/DP70.pdf>.

[27] Australian Law Reform Commission, ALRC Discussion Paper 70: Sentencing of Federal Offenders, Law Council of Australia, 17 March 2006, p. 13, <https://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/DP70.pdf>.

[28] ALRC Report 103 Same Crime, Same Time: Sentencing of Federal Offenders, Commonwealth of Australia, 2006, <http://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/ALRC103.pdf>.

[29] Confidential, Submission SFO 8, 8 March 2005 in ALRC Report 103 Same Crime, Same Time: Sentencing of Federal Offenders, Commonwealth of Australia, 2006, <http://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/ALRC103.pdf>.

[30] Report of the Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons (1978) 247-249.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Sentencing Act 1989 (NSW) Sch 3 cl 8 (repealing Prisons Act 1952 Pt 11).

[34] Rachel Simpson, Parole: An Overview, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service, Briefing Paper No 20/99, November 1999.

[35] Corrective Service Canada, 2008, Commissioner’s Directive, viewed 6 December 2011 <http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/politiques-et-lois/005006-0001-eng.shtml>.

[36] Prisons and Reformatories Act 1985 s 6(1) (Canada).

[37] Corrections in Canada, Correctional Service Canada, 5 February 2010 <http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/about-us/006-2004-eng.shtml>.

[38] Earned Remission, John Conroy Q.C. <http://www.canadianprisonlaw.com/pra/earned.htm>.

[39] Amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Public Safety Canada, 16 June 2010 <http://www.laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-44.6/FullText.html>.

[40] Amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Public Safety Canada, 16 June 2010 <http://www.laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-44.6/FullText.html>;

[41] Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 18 USC s 3624(b)(1) (US).

[42] Jeralyn, LERA, Bill for Increased Federal Good Time to be introduced, TalkLeft, - The Politics of Crime, <http://www.talkleft.com/story/2003/10/21/414/40501>;.

[43]Guy G. Cherry, Claire E. Rossmark, Maryland Dimunition Credit System, Department of Legislative Services, Office of Policy Analysis Annapolis, Maryland, December 2011.

[44] Ibid.

[45]Guy G. Cherry, Claire E. Rossmark, Maryland Dimunition Credit System, Department of Legislative Services, Office of Policy Analysis Annapolis, Maryland, December 2011.


[47] Alison Lawrence, Cutting Corrections Cost, Earned Time policies for State prisoners, National Conference of State Legislatures, July 2009.

[48] Public Law 110-199 – April 9 2008, 122STAT 657-694

[49] Ibid 666.

[50] California Penal Code s 4019, Onecle, 15 January 2011 <http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/4019.html>.

[51] ‘Would early prison release save Washington cash? ,’ Nicholas Geranios, 2 April 2011 <http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/would-early-prison-release-save-washington-cash/>.

[52] Earned Release Program, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 25 August 2008 <http://doc.wi.gov/documents/web/familiesvisitors/inmateinformation/Earned%20Release%20Program.pdf>.

[53] Earned Release Supervision Program, Mississippi Department of Corrections, 3 March 2011 <http://www.mdoc.ms.gov/Community-Corrections/Pages/Earned-Release-Supervision-Program.aspx>.

[54] ‘Prisoner Early Scheme to be halted by April,’ BBC, 23 February 2011 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8528868.stm>.

[55] Ibid.

[56] ‘Re-offending rates top 70% in some prisons, figures reveal’, Alan Travis, Thursday 4November 2010 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/04/jail-less-effective-community-service>.

[57] Crimes (Sentences) Act 1997 part II (UK).

[58] Parliamentary Debate, House of Commons Official Report, Wednesday 8 July 2009, vol.495 no 108, viewed 9 December 2011 <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/chan108.pdf>.

[59] Criminal Justice Order (Northern Ireland) October 2008.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] An interview with Paul Goggins, 50% Remission, BBC Radio, November 2007, viewed 9 December 2011 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7017507.stm>.

[64] Craig R. 4 January 2008, Remission Revision, New Law Journal, vol 158 issue 7302, viewed 9 December 2011 <http://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/nlj/content/remission-revision>.

[65 ]Prison Rules 2007 s 59 (Ireland); Citizens Information Board, 2008, Remission and Temporary Release from Prison <http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/justice/prison_system/remission_and_temporary_release.html> at 6 December 2011.

[66] Remission of Sentences in Ireland, Fiona De Londras, 11 August 2010, <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/>.

[67] Ibid 50.

World Distribution of Computer Victory

Beginning in December 2017, emails detailing the compelling argument and victory decision for Computers in Cells were sent to all prison authorities within Australia, as well as to authorities in most countries globally. They were requested to adopt the argument in their jurisdiction.

In every Australian and New Zealand jurisdicition, each Premier, Minister, Opposition Spokesperson, Greens, and head of bureaucracy were sent the news. Emails were also sent to all NSW Members of Parliament and Judges from the High Court to magistrates.

Internationally, the information was sent globally to prison authorities in UK, Canada and USA. 

It featured in UK prisoners' newspaper Inside Time article. Inside Time newspaper.

It went to Europe with translations where necessary. This included Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, The Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, Belarus, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Albania, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Denmark. 

In Asia it went to China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, and Taiwan. 

It also went with translations to the Districts of Russia, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Guam and Fiji.

Responses are flowing in from all over the world with the right to communication in locked institutions firmly on the agenda.

Index page to campagin

Western Australia Computer in Cells Media Release

Poor Computer Access - WA Prisons Inspector
Article from The West Australia " Greater Computer Access part of W.A. Plan"
Justice Action Media Release: March 29, 2018
The WA Inspector of Custodial Services, in a damning Report just released “The Digital Divide”, in which Western Australia was exposed as having the lowest rate of computers in cells of any state. Thirty-six computers service over 4,000 prisoners. In 2009 there were 167. This lack of computers severely affects the prisoners’ ability to survive upon release.
The Inspector said “Smart use of technology can…increase people’s opportunities to stay in contact with family and friends while in custody, making reintegration less confronting. With the right technology, access to legal, health and government services in custody can be increased. Web based systems and other technologies offer opportunities to increase program and education services in the custodial environment”.
The Inspector cited ‘fiscal pressures facing government’, however he failed to mention the consequence of not offering online counseling services in a bid to reduce the rates of domestic violence. This would result in 173 women and children unnecessarily experiencing domestic violence, and $38 million in unnecessary Government expenditure, each year. This compelling argument convinced the NSW to implement Computers in Cells, and it should be applied equally around the country.
The Inspector was also concerned about in-cell restriction to basic electronic legal information. ‘With the exception of Acacia Prison (16 computers) all other facilities have six or fewer working library computers which can be accessed for legal purposes’, and access to these computers is further restricted depending upon ‘…overcrowding… rostered times, or when parts of the prison are lock down as a result of incidents or short-staffing.’ The lack of evidence when it comes to regular discussion with the legal profession about communications and access of clients is concerning to say the least.
In the ACT Computers in Cells have been operating for 8 years and is safe, effective and cost efficient. See ACT Report. Education participation in the ACT prison stands at 76.3%, which is more than double the national rate of 31.6%. It saves money and makes us all safer with fewer victims. The cost of the computers infrastructure in a major prison only costs $230 000. This is equivalent to the cost of keeping two prisoners for one year.

Victory: Computers for Legal Access


The need for prisoners to access computers in cells is at last being recognised by the law. In a groundbreaking decision in Liristis v State of New South Wales, Tony Liristis, an inmate of Long Bay Correctional Centre, was successfully granted access to a laptop and printer/scanner to prepare his case whilst in custody.

Justice Schmidt presented the following decision:

“Mr Liristis forthwith be given access to his printer/scanner and laptop in custody and that he be permitted to use that equipment in the preparation and conduct of his case, both in custody prior to the commencement of the hearing and in the District Court, during the course of the trial.”

Tony Liristis was originally denied access to a computer that was needed to prepare and present his own case, research the law, and view evidence on CDs. In consequence, his trial had to be postponed the legal process was frustrated.

Access to a fair trial is a common law right, and depriving a prisoner of technology can amount to gross miscarriage of justice. Mr Liristis’ victory proves the need for the Computer in Cells campaign and has set an important precedent for greater access to technology in custody.

Unfortunately, Corrective Services NSW appealed Justice Schmidt’s decision. The case went before the Supreme Court (Court of Appeal) on 7 and 8 May 2018. We are awaiting the result.

Below are three documents consisting of:

  1. Judgement of Justice Schmidt in Mr Liristis’ favour
  2. Transcript from the 30th of January 2018
  3. Transcript from the 31st of January 2018

Victory for Computers in Cells NSW August 2020

CJC Media Release August 10, 2020


“COVID-19 has dramatically disconnected us from each other. But for those held in prison cells it has enabled vital connections. For the last five months visits to NSW prisons have been banned and been replaced by video visits using 430 computer tablets. This experience has led to good general acceptance by staff in correctional centres. This breakthrough now allows rehabilitation services to be delivered into cells, including access to white-listed secure internet sites. This is consistent with the Government’s aim to reduce recidivism” said the Hon John Dowd AO QC, President of the Community Justice Coalition.


“The overwhelming success was to enable 70,204 family visits to date. Twenty percent of video ‘visitors’ were from interstate or overseas, people who would normally not be able to visit inmates. We have been advised that the infrastructure is in place at Dillwynia Women's Correctional Centre and John Morony Correctional Centre to support the roll out of tablets to all the prisoners by September. After that there is capacity to bring on six jails at a time, subject to funding, starting in September. Lessening the isolation through this technology is for the benefit of the whole community” said the Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC, former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia. 


“As well as having telephony capacity, the tablets will have access to digital mental health services. This flags the beginning of services that will support prisoners experiencing disorders exacerbating drug use and violence. Computers in cells have proven to have positive outcomes in other jurisdictions in reducing the reoffending rate. It is also a real opportunity to implement new education strategies and introduce behavioural change material. This is a new era for NSW prisons by taking an inclusive approach to rehabilitation and lessening the number of victims in our society” said Ken Marslew, CEO Founder, Enough is Enough Anti Violence Movement Inc.


GTL and Telstra are the technology providers.


Index page of Computers in Cells Project



“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.

The Benefits of Education

 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 Right to Education

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.

Access to Education

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.

Barriers to Education

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.

Education Providers

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.

Community Justice Coalition (CJC) Forums

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.

Computers in Cells


NSW Prisoners Get Tablet Computers in Cells August 2020
Victory: Computers for Legal Access in Liritis v State of New South Wales
Poor Computer Access - W.A. Prisons Inspector
World Distribution of Victory
Prisons NSW Agreement
Victory: Computers in Cells to be Implemented
Cost of Inaction - Prisoner Domestic Violence
ACT Prison Report
Youth Access - International Survey
Petition: Call for Computers in Cells for Juvenile Detainees
Facebook Wants Kids in Juvenile Detention to Get Internet Access
Computers in Juvenile Cells
History of The Computers In Cells Project
21st April 2017: The launch of Computers in cells campaign by Community Justice Coalition (CJC)
30th March 2017: Online Legal Services
NSW Government Response to JA Online Counselling Proposal
21st April 2015: Online Counselling in Cells
 Computers In Cells Policy Policy Proposal
5th May 2012: Online Education Services


Computers have had a profound impact on society in recent decades – not only in the workplace but also in homes, schools and the public arena. The benefits of computers are invaluable to prisoners, providing a means to access online education, counselling (including domestic violence) and legal services. Whilst computers are readily available and widely used by the public, prisoners have not been afforded the same level of access to computers, often due to misinformed security concerns and the ignorance of prison administrators.

Many prisoners spend up to 18 hours locked in their cells every day. As Justice Action has proposed, having computers in cells would safely and securely help to maximise productivity during the 18 hours prisoners spend in isolation, provide trusted counsellors through external providers, allow for the stability of service providers throughout the sentence and after release, and encourage empowerment and self-management.

Prisoners, teachers, service providers, government bodies and enforcement agencies all agree on the need for education within the prison system. They recognise that education is instrumental to the successful rehabilitation of prisoners, contributing to the reduction in rates of recidivism.

To learn about our Computers in Cells campaign in the past, see below for archival publications and related articles.

CJC Media Release: Campaign Begins

CJC Media Release

Community Justice Coalition (CJC) recently released a media release   commenting on the urgent need for computers in prisons across NSW and Australia. CJC advocates for the myriad of benefits that computers in cells will provide for prisoners and the community that would "radically improve outcomes for prisoners". CJC explains that the easy access to computers for prisoners will allow for easy delivery of programes such as domestic violence and de-radicalisation counselling, access to education and legal services in a safe and controlled manner. For more information, visit the CJC website here or go to our computers in cells campaign page, here.

Media Reports

The Daily Telegraph Reports on Friday, 21st of April, 2017: 


News.com.au reported on 20th of April about the importance of 'Computers in Cells'.


Prison Responses.jpgLATEST NEWS


“Prisons are highly unsettling environments in which individuals are more likely than elsewhere to explore new beliefs and associations. Confronted with existential questions and deprived of their existing social networks, prisoners with no previous involvement in politically motivated violence are vulnerable to being radicalised and recruited into terrorism. Prisons, therefore, are ‘places of vulnerability’ in which radicalisation can take place” (Peter R. Neumann, 2010) 

There are many ways in which an individual can become radicalised; existing theories emphasise different perspectives or levels of radicalisation. A number of factors such as a lack of social support, political views, and individual factors are common themes among radicalised individuals. In order to address the issue of radicalisation, it is imperative that computers are placed within prison cells. This allows prisoners to utilise time in their cell which would otherwise be wasted, on receiving online counselling services which help begin the de-radicalisation process.

Online programs and services have been shown to reduce rates of offending and should have the capacity to make a positive impact on the process of de-radicalisation. Online access to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has been shown to offer a range of benefits that include the following:

• The period of time spent in isolation each day is utilised productively;
• Stability and continuity of the service provider are ensured throughout the sentence and after release;
• Greater trust in external counsellors;
• Greater empowerment by encouraging self-management;
• Greater cost-effectiveness; and
• Research indicates that online counselling leads to more long-term changes in the behaviour of participants than face-to-face counselling.

Even though there is little to no data on recidivism with relation to terrorist offences due to the new nature of the offence and the minimal convictions, its root causes and matching solutions are not completely removed from more conventional crime. Research demonstrates that access to formal education and work opportunities increasingly lower recidivism rates for prisoners. The absence of meaningful personal relationships and a weak sense of community belonging play significantly into the radicalisation process, yet their influence has been overlooked in a number of de-radicalisation programs. Working towards lower rates of recidivism should give equal, if not more, weight to the engagement of a radicalised individual. A strong coordinated community and government effort that includes prisoner training, education, and engagement within prisons would significantly reduce recidivism and the chances of re-radicalisation.

Australian Capital Territory Since its deployment in 2009 at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, PrisonPC has provided inmates with access to several online resources. The initial aim of PrisonPC was to provide educational support for prisoners, which would contribute to lower rates of recidivism and aid in the process of social re-integration. However, the interface also provides several add-ons such as media streaming facilities and religious services. Online counselling in cells increases the availability of these services in concurrence with the chances of rehabilitation.

New Zealand – Auckland South Corrections Facility
Given the increasing prevalence of computer and Internet usage in our society, several international jurisdictions have implemented the use of online counselling in newly built jails. This demonstrates the importance of recognising the positive influence technology can have in rehabilitating those in prison rather than subjecting them to punishment. In particular, the construction and operation of the Auckland South Corrections Facility in 2015 symbolises a step forward in the recognition of the importance of access to technology in promoting self-management. As such, the Serco Director of Operations Scott McNarin states that “access to this technology imposes the expectation that prisoners will engage in purposeful activities, such as education, in what can often be an unproductive time in other prisons.” Hence, this program demonstrates that there is scope for the introduction of online counselling in Australian cells to provide access to positive, external influences. It is clear that access to online services in cells provides a constructive opportunity for effective prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

With the appropriate resources and services, the higher the possibility of lowering levels of recidivism. Therefore, introducing online counselling into cells and offering online counselling services presents a viable option for tackling the issue of radicalisation.


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