This report is to update you with our latest news and projects. Please let us know if you can offer any feedback on any of the topics raised below. download
The Justice Action office has been busier than ever. New team members have come aboard as current campaigns and developing issues present an ever- growing range of efforts. The photo above shows part of the growing team.
Our four Justice Reform Initiative research papers, recently launched at an international conference in Trinidad, adopt the new concept of prisoner empowerment and responsibility that propose proactive approaches to doing time. Ministers, bureaucrats and leading academics in each field of research were consulted and their feedback was incorporated into the papers.
JA has been exposing the shocking treatment of those affected by mental health policies while held in prisons and forensic hospitals. We have produced several research papers in this area such as the Forced Medication and Patient and Prisoner Controlled Services papers. Our being involved in this area stems from our relationship with several current patients, including Saeed Dezfouli, who have articulated the need for change in these areas.
Justice Action continues to advocate for policy and law reform. We are currently focussed on the NSW bail system, women in prison, criminal consorting legislation and the prohibition of synthetic drugs. Keep an eye on our website for upcoming releases.
JUST US Newspaper Vol 5
We are about to focus on the next edition of the prisoners and mental health consumers newspaper ‘JUST US’. Our editor is looking for short articles, comments, poems, drawings etc. Get them in now! Following our victory in the Supreme Court last year that gave JUST US the right to enter institutions, we are in communication with authorities regarding the best logistical approach to distribute the next paper into all institutions. As usual, we will also be sending copies to all politicians and judges across Australia and New Zealand, by name.
RESEARCH PAPERS – PRISONER EMPOWERMENT
Justice Action has prepared a package of four research papers recently launched at the 14th International Conference on Penal Abolition held in Trinidad. The papers encourage an active approach to doing time in contrast with the current passivity of prison time. We also support the idea of ‘justice reinvestment’ – whereby the funds saved from diverting offenders from prison are used to assist their communities. Such an approach aims to address the social and economic causes of crime. The most recent drafts are available from the Justice Action website.
We invite you to write to us with any comments you might have regarding the papers below. We have print copies available, but Justice Action is self-funding and copies are limited. The basic outlines of our four papers are as follows:
a) Restorative Justice `
This research paper challenges the negative view of Restorative Justice currently portrayed by the media. Communication between an offender and victim often results in a sense of involvement and resolution for the victim. Such dialogue encourages an offender to take responsibility for the offence, and enables him/her to understand how it affected the victim and community. This paper analyses the efficacy of restorative justice, and proposes an extension of the restorative justice system to the sentence itself. Through mediating a true reconciliation, offenders would be re-integrated into society rather than being met by a barrage of hostility and resentment.
b) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT has been recognised as a cost effective and successful means of reducing recidivism. Currently prisoners are forced to complete CBT
programs in return for release. Behavioural change cannot be forced, but must occur through individual free-will. CBT use in prisons must be voluntary and conducted with confidentiality and privacy. Additionally, it is important that governments do not use CBT, which focuses on the individual, to repudiate social causes of crime, such as economic stress. CBT is essentially under-utilised and restricted to the final stage of a sentence. The paper presents an on-going, prison and community-based method for implementation providing positive and long-term effects.
c) Earning Early Release
By allowing prisoners to have some control of their own future, they develop a sense of responsibility. With the incentive to reduce their sentence, prisoners can have hope and be encouraged to use their time productively. Alexander Maconochie, a penal colony reformist, established a remission system where only 2% of ex-prisoners re-offended, contrasted with today’s 43%. These programs have been successfully implemented internationally.
d) Computers in Cells
Computers in cells provide prisoners with the ability to undertake further education, work on legal cases and communicate with friends and family. Access to computers in cells provide an alternative to the boredom generated by mind-numbing TVs. This solution has been adopted internationally but its implementation has been slow locally.
International Conference on Penal Abolition
We recently attended the 14th ICOPA, which was held in Trinidad. Running for over twenty-nine years, the conference investigates various means to move beyond the ineffective and costly practice of incarceration.
Speaking on the fourth day of the Conference, we launched our four Justice Reform Initiative research papers. The papers incited interest among the attendees who comprised academics, politicians and corrective service personnel. Particular interest was paid to our Computers in Cells paper. The Trinidadian prisons have said they would receive any donated computers to implement the program. If only our own government was as responsive!
FORCED MEDICATION RESEARCH PAPER
The case of Saeed Dezfouli and another forcibly medicated prisoner, held in solitary confinement for 15 years, has prompted a re-examination of Forced Medication. The new paper explores the legal basis for forced medication and the negative effects it has on individuals.
PATIENT AND PRISONER CONTROLLED SERVICES RESEARCH PAPER
In August 2011, the Productivity Commission reported that the delivery of services to disabled persons were ‘unfair and inefficient’ as consumers have neither voice nor control. The JA ‘OUR PICK’ Report made the same conclusion. Patient and prisoner’s control of services translates to three times the benefit. The Australian Government has accepted the Productivity Commission’s conclusions and introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme. However, nothing has changed. The JA paper “Changing the Driver” analyses the situation.
NSW Minister for Mental Health, Kevin Humphries, was publicly challenged by Justice Action to adopt the principles of the report rather than await additional federal funding. Our work within mental healthcare defends basic human rights and challenges the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Such work would not be necessary if consumers were given the central role in determining their own treatment.
Right to Education
Success at the Administrative Decisions Tribunal! Saeed will be able to study law while he is in the Long Bay Forensic Hospital. This sets an important precedent for all patients as it recognises their right to education independent of health issues. In a statement, Saeed said, “Thanks and I love you all. Finally I have the opportunity to use my time and energy constructively. I feel transformed – like a student now, not a person of lower status than a prisoner”. JA is now negotiating with Justice Health for a computer in his cell.
Mental Health Review Tribunal Hearing 31/5/12
This time, Saeed’s own psychiatrist, lawyer and primary carers supported him during the hearing. The psychiatrist testified that the medication was inappropriate. She had previously been blocked entry to the April hearing which was ultimately adjourned. Despite Saeed’s support, it was ordered that the forced medication continue.
At the end of the May hearing, Tribunal Chair John Feneley asked to speak to Saeed’s support team without him being present. Saeed disapproved. He then witnessed the Tribunal accusing his primary carers of having a conflict of interest, his psychiatrist of presenting polemical reports, and his lawyer of not responding to a letter. An appeal to the Supreme Court is being considered, in spite of a previous judgement in which costs of $36 000 were awarded against us.
Right to a Name
Justice Adams finally brought down his ruling on the s162 restrictions, finding that before Saeedcould make statements in his own name, he would have to state what he wants to say, and to whom. The Treating Team then considers whether there would be a real risk that his mental health will be adversely affected by his doing so, and the Tribunal then decides whether to give permission.
This makes a joke of both the Tribunal and the Supreme Court. The police have said they won’t enforce s162, and the media are ignoring it as shown with the report of Saeed’s education victory, and with the Sunil Hemraj article. Furthermore, at the MHRT Hearing 31/5/12, Feneley personally threatened JA that he would take action if any publicity was given to the so-called ‘open’ public hearing using the patient’s name under s162.
Our friend Chris Binse was recently involved in a 48-hour siege with police in Melbourne. JA spoke with Chris via telephone during the siege. The situation was resolved without Chris, the police, or any civilians being seriously injured. But it should never have happened.
Prior to this incident, Chris was released from prison 2005, and we were proud to have him onboard our post-release mentoring program that we presented to the NSW Parliament. Like so many initiatives to reduce reoffending, the mentoring program was rejected due to an unwillingness to invest in such long-term solutions. This latest offence could have been avoided if funding was given to the proposed mentoring program. Justice Action prepared a media release reiterating our position on this matter.
CURRENT PRISONER IN HIGH RISK MANAGEMENT UNIT
We continue to follow the case of a prisoner being tortured while held in Australia’s highest risk security unit – the HRMU. The 15 years of effective solitary confinement is in an environment the psychiatrist describes as “manifestly inappropriate”. Furthermore, he has been forcibly medicated. JA has demanded permission from the NSW Attorney-General for our own inspection team to visit him and carry out an independent assessment. This man has also been blocked in naming a primary carer or having support during his tribunal hearings. He isleg shackled and handcuffed when going out, but has never attacked anyone in his twenty years inside. A truly appalling case!
Anti-consorting laws inhibit the rehabilitation and reintegration prospects of former prisoners. It is simply unfair for former prisoners to be forced to carry the stigma of their crimes after their sentence has been served and for law-abiding citizens to be punished for the crime of association. Many ex-prisoners support each other within the community. This should be encouraged, not proscribed.
PRISONER MOVEMENT HISTORY
Our history of the prisoner movement continues to expand. You can access the timeline.
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Previous Report: Feb 10 2012