Denying Education to the Willing

Update: Jeffrey achieves more fantastic results! August 2017
Justice Action would like to greatly congratulate Jeffrey for earning a distinction result in the subject LAW00108, “Legal and Conveying Practice”. Jeffrey deserves full credit for his incredible dedication and work ethic, and we look forward to seeing more fantastic results in the future. 

UPDATE: Jeffrey achieves excellent uni results! December 12, 2016
Jeffery McKane, a prisoner that is working to complete his education by distance, has recently achieved excellent results in his Legal Research and Writing class Southern Cross University. 
UPDATE: University Textbook Access August, 2016
In a victory not only for Jeffrey McKane, but for all prisoners’ access to education, Justice Action has now succeeded in providing Mr McKane with access to the textbooks that are necessary to support his legal education.

The Jeffrey McKane Story

Access to education is severely and unnecessarily restricted to individuals in the criminal justice system even to those who are proactive and willing to undertake study.

Prior to being incarcerated, Jeffrey McKane was embarking on a law degree at the University of New England. Goulburn Correctional Centre permitted Mr McKane to complete the Torts Law subject he was already studying, however upon its completion he was told he could not continue with his studies. After repeated applications to the prison staff and the Commissioner for Corrective Services, he remains unable to continue his law studies, nor is he able to engage in any other education for the purposes of rehabilitation, such as art.

On 27 February 2014, Mr McKane applied to the Supreme Court by way of a summons seeking orders for CSNSW to grant him access to his studies. However, a decision was made on 12 June 2015 that the matter could not be pursued, as the court could not engage in a merits review of the decisions made by CSNSW. Following this decision, Mr McKane was ordered to cover for the costs of CSNSW of the proceedings, the cost of which is unknown.

The denial of such education is a direct breach of Article 6 of the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, which states that:

All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality’.

Mr McKane has also been denied access to the education block this year, which limits his access to a computer. In the wings there are only two computers available, which are shared between approximately 160 inmates. Without access to the education block there are no other computer resources available to him.

Mr McKane was first advised in 2013 by education staff in Goulburn Correctional Centre that he could not continue his studies because he was a remand prisoner. An administrative review of this decision was lodged with the NSW Ombudsman who referred it to the original decision maker, the Corrective Services Commissioner, who at the time was Ron Woodham. The commissioner upheld the previous decision that MrMcKanecould not continue with his degree as a remand prisoner and should make another application once sentenced.

In a letter addressed to Mr McKane on 17 June 2013, the Corrective Services Commissioner told Mr McKane ‘each application is assessed on an individual basis’. It is interesting and questionable to see how this assessment on an individual basis changes once the remand prisoner is a notable person such as Harriet Wran. Harriet, the daughter of former NSW Premier Neville Wran, remains in Silverwater Correctional Facility on remand for the murder of Daniel McNulty. Despite her status as a remand prisoner, Miss Wran has been able to continue her studies in Modern History at the University of Sydney by correspondence (Hills and Bashan, 2015, ‘Harriet’s secret bid to cut a deal’, Sunday Telegraph).

The NSW Corrective Services Commissioner repeatedly inhibited Mr McKane’s access to education, citing inadequate resources and limited staffing to supervise and download the required educational materials. This was highly disappointing.

Through Justice Action’s intervention, as of 25 May 2016 Mr McKane has been given access to study a law course at Southern Cross University (SCU). Justice Action is incredibly thankful to SCU for recognising Mr McKane’s immense potential. Justice Action supported Mr McKane’s educational endeavours by accessing online lecture materials on his behalf, taking responsibility for his student email and administrative matters, as well as providing a retired teacher (linked to the Teachers Federation) to supervise and be present during Mr McKane’s examinations.

Inadequacy of Resources:

Mr McKane has been told that he will not be able to access education as there are limited resources and that the facility would not be able to provide staff to download the required lecture materials.

However, it looks like this issue can be resolved through self-funding of his study. Mr McKane has suggested that changing the current printing arrangements for inmates combined with the potential for the required materials to be placed on a CD-ROM by the university or by Justice Action would remove any drain on resources.

On 9 July 2015, JA offered to CSNSW regarding what money did CSNSW require to pay for McKane’s cost of potential resources. There has been no response so far.

The mechanism for a CD-ROM to be provided by the university and sent to Mr McKane was subsequently raised and he is currently awaiting a response from University of New England Special Needs Office. The office has indicated that it will be able to process this request once confirmation has been received from the Education Officer at the Goulburn Correction Centre that Mr McKane has permission to continue his studies whilst incarcerated. Thus far, the Commissioner has neither confirmed nor denied Mr McKane permission, despite Mr McKane’s willingness to pay for his own studies using the money that he makes from working in the textiles factory along with assistance from the Justice Action team and family support.

Mr McKane has also sought to purchase his laptop computer and printer due to ‘the extreme difficulties’ that he has ‘endured since incarceration’. As of 31 July 2015, this request has been denied.

Mr McKane has suggested that he has been targeted by officials and has been unfairly discriminated against. He speculates that this may be due to his eagerness to study a law degree or his willingness to seek judicial review for their refusal to allow him access to education. In making this argument, Mr McKane pointed to the fact that other inmates this year had been approved for tertiary education with the University of New England. However his application has continued to be rejected.

In addition, Mr McKane has argued that under a self-funded model the total and only resources required to facilitate his study would be supervision for one exam per subject studied and the arrangement of ordering textbooks.

Prioritising Low Ability and Employability:

In a letter dated 29 June 2015, Justice Action received from the Corrective Services Commissioner, Peter Severin, regarding Mr McKane’s case, he explains that ‘CSNSW continues to prioritise resources towards inmates that have the greatest learning needs like inmates with low literacy and numeracy skills, and inmates requiring significant assistance to increase the likelihood of employment upon release’.

As Mr McKane has a strong education and employment background he has been deemed a low priority in the provision of education. This raises serious questions in light of the offers made by Mr McKane to fund his own studies and the limited resources required by him.

Education is a basic human right pursuant to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which all deserve access, irrespective of social or economic status or personal circumstance. Accordingly, Australia formally acknowledged its recognition of and commitment to this right (Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

Furthermore, according to the University of New England policies, Mr McKane’s degree must be completed within ten years of starting the course. This would mean that Mr McKane would be unable to complete the remainder of his degree with his current subjects set to expire. This seems to be a strong argument in favour of why it would be practical for Mr McKane to be able to continue his studies in order to facilitate his post-release rehabilitation and employment. 

Leave a Comment