History of Computers in Cells Campaign

World Corrections and Prisons Conference in Adelaide – 23-25 May 2023: Two Justice Action delegates attended the Corrections Technology Conference and presented the Nairobi Declaration for Detainee Telecommunication Rights to 300 delegates, asking for its endorsement. The participants on the opening panel stated that they agreed with the principles of the Declaration, whilst the ICPA itself and a number of delegates, including some sponsors, would consider formal endorsement. Justice Action posted a media release from this conference on the 24th. 

9th International CURE Conference in Nairobi – 1-5 May 2023: The conference explored how the criminal justice system reform can align with the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, a key feature of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A key issue at the conference was the issue of telecommunication and technology access for detainees around the globe. Fruitful discussion at the conference resulted in the production of the Nairobi Declaration for Detainee Telecommunications Rights.

Media Release on Recommendations to Reduce Recidivism – 02 December 2022: The media release highlights the development of Recidivism: The Way Forward and how it was distributed to Australian Ministers, Shadow Ministers, and Attorney-Generals in charge of Corrective Services with the caveat that the recommendations should be implemented. One of the key recommendations include access to white-listed web pages for computers in cells to provide prisoners with the opportunity for counselling and education.

Recidivism: The Way Forward – 10 November 2022: The Community Justice Coalition published this paper alongside Justice Action because they were asked by community leaders in the ACT to assist their Government’s commitment to reduce recidivism by 25% by 2025. Computers in Cells was one of the key factors in reducing recidivism. The argument points out how computers in cells allows prisoners access to mainstream education, training, and health services. This access also improves mental health as the individual is not completely isolated. 

Music In Prisons – 11 July 2022: Justice Action pushed for music in prisons after the implementation of computers in cells. Music programs require participants to step outside comfort zones, demonstrate dedication, bravery, empathy, and respect. It gives inmates skills to also connect to their community. The skills and attitudes developed from music programs help inmates to transition back into society more easily. The skills learned from the Arts programs in prison also helped them achieve their goals once they were released. Now, JA is working on art in prison, so prisoners can have an additional creative outlet. 

ACEA Conference – 30 November 2021: An update was made to the computer in cells campaign. The Australian Corrections Education Association praised the benefit of technology in prisons and mental health facilities in making education more accessible. However, access to education remains extremely limited in many Australian prisons. The conference proposed initiatives to create education and training resources through the use of technology. 

World First Computers in Cells With Phones – 27 November 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 eight 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.

Computer in Cells Victory in NSW – October 2020: 800 tablets were given to prisoners in John Morony and Dillwynia Women’s correctional centres. Computers were also provided to inmates in Clarence Correctional Centre. Per CJC annual report, “we have received personal correspondence commending this transition, facilitating relationship growth between detainees and those they correspond with. Prisoners also have access to online university courses provided by the University of Southern Queensland, including the Tertiary Preparation Program (TPP). Tablets have allowed prisoners access to ABC news, games, and meditation applications. Tablets have seen greater resources accessible to prisoners to reduce recidivism rates.”

Great Strides Made in the Case from Online Legal Services for Prisoners – May 2018: Prisoners are often unable to exercise their legal rights, isolated from support, in cells without resources, but with time and incentive to defend themselves. 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.

CSNSW Responds to CJC and Supports Increased Access to Computers for Prisoners – 03 January 2018: In a letter by Peter Severin, the CSNSW gave written acknowledgement for the implementation of computers in cells, but with security and safety at the forefront. The CSNSW began trialing computers in cells at South Coast Correctional Centre to observe the educational improvements in inmates through their developed training program, Digital Offender Initiative. The CSNSW has also noted the encouragement provided by online counselling services and online communities to prisoners. 

Computers in Cells to be Implemented – 24 November 2017: As described by this Justice Action video, this verdict was a gamechanger, ending social isolation in prisons and locked hospitals: Computers in cells for everyone. Finally, the compelling argument for Computers in Cells is that the community carries much higher social and financial costs when prisoners do not get access to domestic violence counselling, than the cost of controlled access. It is cheap, safe and effective.

ACT Computers in Cells Report – 18 October 2017: The Community Justice Coalition resolved to arrange a visit to the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), Australian Capital Territory. This visit intended to extend the work into the Computers in Cells program. The insights of the ACT experience with in-cell technology would also promote further discussions in other jurisdictions. 

Elizabeth Evatt Discredits the Current Support Services in Place – August 2017: The NSW government gave computers in cells a chance after CJC president John Dowd and Elizabeth Evatt sent out a letter to all state MPs and judges. The letter stated that the current support services will not fix the problems at hand. However, providing prisoners with online access to counselling services in their cells would save over 500 women and children from domestic and family violence incidents and save the government $110 million as mentioned in the Cost of Inaction paper.

The CJC Publishes Counting the Cost of Inaction – 17 July 2017: Community Justice Coalition Paper continues the fight for computers in cells and releases a paper titled Counting the Cost of Inaction: Failure to Deliver Prisoner Domestic Violence Counseling. The paper mentions the proposal made at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry and how the CSNSW’s inadequate response has led to an increase in recidivism rates. The paper argues the cost of online services would be less than the cost to address the result of domestic violence recidivism. The CJC finds that if implemented, online services would create 352 fewer offenders returning to a NSW prison, over 500 women and children saved from domestic violence, and the NSW economy saving $110 million. The report recommends that CSNSW act to ensure that online counselling services are provided to NSW prisoners, and that they investigate other potential uses of computers in cells.

Corrective Services NSW Responds to Community Justice Coalition Media Release –21 April 2017: From the SBS article: “CSNSW said the importance of giving inmates access to computers for education and rehabilitation was recognised. ‘Under the prison bed expansion program, CSNSW is also looking at ways of incorporating technology into new correctional centres and expansions,’ the department said in a statement. It is incrementally rolling out technology but adopted a ‘cautious’ approach by prioritising community safety, the statement added”

Major News Outlets Report on Computers In Cells – 21 April 2017: Following the media release on the 20th of April, a number of major news outlets covered the computers in cells issue. The story was covered on page 15 of the Daily Telegraph, as well as appearing digitally on 9News amongst other outlets. This marked the beginning of the Community Justice Coalition’s involvement in the Computers in Cells campaign.

Community Justice Coalition Publishes Media Release “NSW Needs Computers In Cells – 20 April 2017: The president of the CJC, The Hon John Dowd AO QC, published a media release highlighting the importance of having computers inside prison cells, as well as criticising the NSW government for “dragging its feet” in relation to the issue. 

Community Justice Coalition Continues to Fight for Liristis – 28 March 2017: The CJC responded to the Commissioner of CSNSW stating that Mr. Liristis has been denied the ability to send emails to the court, and to sign out a USB stick, both of which greatly deprive him of his ability to exercise his right to legal defence. The CSNSW responded with a refusal to address the concerns.

Justice Coalition receives Correspondence from Northern Territory Legislative Association – 13 March 2017: The CJC received correspondence from Natasha Fyles of the Northern Territory Legislative Association, after she asked The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice to investigate its ability to support a web-based domestic violence program.

Tony Liristis Contacts Community Justice Coalition for Help – 3 January 2017: Tony Liristis’ inability to prepare important case documents due to his lack of computer access led to his court date being vacated twice, lengthening his stay in prison. The CJC worked alongside Mr. Liristis to persuade CSNSW regarding a prisoner’s right to legal resources. However, the Commissioner said “CSNSW does not permit inmate access to the Internet.” 

JA Responds to CSNSW’s Disapproval – 02 February 2016: Justice Action responded with a letter that highlighted the need to implement a different system that will provide effective rehabilitation services. Despite the State Plan to reduce recidivism by 5%, the rate of adult reoffending has actually increased. The NSW Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament 2015 revealed 45.8% of released prisoners returned within two years of release. The proposal was still ignored following the February 2nd letter.

CSNSW Deems Online Counselling Service as Not Appropriate – 14 January 2016: Proceeding their follow-up, Justice Action received a letter from Luke Grant, a commissioner at the Corrective Services of New South Wales, that said, “an online counseling service would not be appropriate.” 

Online Counselling in Cells Proposal – 14 December 2015: At the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry, Justice Action proposed a three-month trial of online counselling in cells with no cost for the government. As a follow-up, JA asked for the help of Minister Elliot and Premier Baird. 

Strong Case for Online Counselling Services at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry – 23 November 2015: The key to success during the hearing was to not show compassion for the prisoners. Instead, it is beneficial to the whole community if inmates are provided rehabilitation resources through education, counselling, and community. The NSW Legislative Council Inquiry was an opportunity to present the alternative argument. The CJC proposed online counselling services on the security classification and management of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment to promote restorative justice. Government submissions agreed on the need for rehabilitative programs for life prisoners, as part of the human right to development and as a tool for Corrective Services staff to manage the prison population. However, Corrective Services challenged these ideas. The CSNSW claimed inmates needed to use their own mental health staff. 

Trial for Computers in Cells at South Coast Correctional Centre – 27 October 2014: JA received an email from the Office of Hon Brad Hazzard MP that a trial of computers in cells at South Coast Correctional Centre would begin in November 2014. We were informed that computers in cells would expand to other prisons depending on this trial. Mr Hazzard’s office also stated that in-cell connectivity was deemed cost ineffective in the majority of NSW prisons. 

Computers in Cells Proposal sent to Spokesperson for Justice and NZ MP – 14 July 2014: JA sent a modified and expanded “Computers In Cells” proposal to Associate Spokesperson for Justice and New Zealand MP Raymond Huo. The twenty-three paged report focussed on online counselling in prison cells as a cost effective way to reduce crime. We received no response.

Proposal for Online Counselling in Cells sent to Corrective Services NSW – 11 July 2014: In collaboration with anti-violence NGO Enough is Enough, JA designed another proposal for online counselling in cells. On this date it was sent to Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin. We received no response.

JA meets with Department of Corrective Services – 23 January 2014: The Co-Ordinator of JA and three team members held a meeting with Department of Corrective Services officials Luke Grant and Joy Gault. This was initiated after an email from Peter Severin dated 23rd December 2013, who suggested a consultation in relation to computer communication. Our meeting discussed strategies for implementing computers in prison NSW-wide, as well as potential costs and sources of funding. Meetings with Luke Grant continued throughout 2014, on May 2nd and July 29th. 

iExpress launched – 17 December 2013: World first, offering a full service to detainees with a profile like FaceBook and email service. Launch YouTube. Defended responsible access to cyberspace against attacks by victims’ organisations and legislation, showing that it was of benefit to victims themselves and a human right.

Justice Action Produces Computers In Cells Implementation Strategy – 16 November 2011: This draft implementation strategy outlines key focus areas as well as gauging support from key stakeholders including political parties. 

Computers In Cells Receives Strong Support From The Greens Party – 25 February 2011: David Shoebridge of The Greens pledges support for the computers in cells project. 

Follow-up to Paper Published – February 2011: JA follows up the discussion paper with a proposal paper for future distribution. It outlines the reduction in recidivism and benefits in inmate education and employability stemming from computers in cells.

‘Computers in Cells’ Paper Published – 25 November 2010: JA publishes ‘Computers into Cells’ Discussion Paper. The paper proposed the provision of computers in cells, noting the educational, legal, and social benefits, while showcasing successful examples in the ACT and Victoria. It also addressed Corrective Service’s concerns regarding illegitimate use and security issues, noting that these issues are easily solved by software packages such as PrisonPC, available at the time.

Beginning of the CJC – 2009: The Community Justice Coalition was established and began campaigning for computers in cells. One of the initial aims of the CJC was to help make the criminal justice system in NSW not just punitive, but through greatly enhanced prisoner education and rehabilitation programs, educative and restorative.

Committee for Project Established – 30 June 2006: A project steering committee is established to ‘develop standards, processes and systems under which inmates will be granted controlled and secure access to computing technology.’ The project was aimed to ‘maximise the use of computing technology by inmates.’ It is said the project is to proceed in a stagedmanner. Corrective Services indicates their consideration of strategies to allow access to computers in cells, ‘particularly technology implementation at the new Wellington Correctional Centre and the proposed South Coast facility.’ 

Motion for Acceptance of Computers – 5 April 2001: The Shadow Minister for Community Services passes a motion calling on the government ‘to accept donations of computers into New South Wales prisons from private donors, where these computers will be used to promote rehabilitation of inmates and to reduce the rate of recidivism.’The Opposition found it ‘laughable’ that 113 surplus department computers are enough to satisfy the needs of 7,500 prisoners. They suggested that Corrective Services needed leadership who ‘understand that computers can help,’ and looked for solutions, not problems with proposals to introduce community computer donation schemes.They note their support of JA’s basic message that computers are required to ‘give inmates opportunities to become better people.’

Computers Revoked – 13 September 1999: The Commissioner of Corrective Services orders that donated computers be removed. The corrective services minister and the commissioner cite several reasons: the Inmate Private Property Policy, millennium bug compatibility, and the availability of hard copy education resources. It is suggested by Corrective Services that providing more computers will be done with their own surplus machines in a stagedmanner.

Donation of Computers – August to September 1999: JA delivers donated computers from community to jails for use in wings. Computers are initially accepted and some installed.

JA Proposes Computers in Cells – 25 June 1998: JA proposes computer repair and return programs in jails.