Inspector Criticises Practice November 2023

Inspector of Custodial Services Report calls for end to destruction of original mail to NSW prisoners

Justice Action’s considerable concerns regarding the treatment of prisoner mail have been reflected in a recent report by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services; Review of the response to COVID-19 in NSW custody (Report) and have also received media coverage here. Our concerns relate to the practice of blanket photocopying and destruction of letters purportedly introduced to reduce contraband during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. 

We have previously explored these in detail here, and issues include:

·         Intrinsic sentimental value of original letters

·         Importance of letters for family relationships and recidivism

·         Widespread and long-term improper photocopying practices

·         Right to original letters, envelopes and attachments

·         Legal issues with destruction of mail and censorship

·         Negative impact on prisoner and family mental health

·         Environmental cost and cost to taxpayers

The Report highlights several serious issues with the current practice of blanket photocopying and destruction of prisoner mail and envelopes (pages 86-88), that the implementation of the policy has been “poor” with prisoner mail going from a “non-existent subject of complaints … to one of the most frequently raised complaints.” The legality of the practice is questioned; “the CAS regulation cannot be used as a legal basis for practices that go beyond the regulation-making authority provided in the CAS Act” with a recommendation to obtain “legal advice regarding the lawfulness of Commissioner’s Instruction 2020/86”.

The report goes on to state:

“We consider that the destruction of inmate mail should cease entirely. The persistent implementation issues mean we cannot support the continuation of this practice, even if it should be found to be lawful. In the absence of evidence that correspondence is imprinted with an illicit substance, original mail should be either provided to the inmate or stored in their property.”

The following recommendation is made in the report:

“CSNSW immediately ceases the destruction of original mail to inmates.”

On 30th January 2024 we drew attention to these findings to Minister for Corrections, Anoulack Chanthivong and Acting Commissioner Leon Taylor. We requested immediate implementation of the recommendations and discontinuation of the current practice with resumption of delivery of original mail to prisoners. We await a response.

Potential inclusion of contraband cannot be used as a reason to justify the continuation of a policy that results in collective punishment and destruction of lawful mail for prisoners and their families who are doing the right thing.