Our JA end of year celebration – some team members and pals gathered for our Freed! event in our office.
Computers in Cells
Prisoners’ telecommunication rights have been a key focus for over 20 years. We got donations of old computers from a charity and delivered them into NSW and QLD prison libraries 23 years ago until the Commissioner discovered it was us and threw them out! NSW prisoners were first in the world to get access from maximum security cells to white-listed websites and phone contact. The iExpress services held the right to expression on the internet. Detainees in NSW now have access to tablets in their cells, on which they can access some mental health and legal information, read news, and entertain themselves with certain restrictions. Online educational resources whether academic, skill or trade-based will eradicate some of the barriers to employment and life outside prison, and ease the stress of community re-entry.
In spite of the progress, we understand that there are still a lot of problems and issues to be addressed. We are working to get external services, including psychological counselling, legal services, and education, onto prisoners’ tablets and laptops in cells.
Nairobi Declaration for Detainee Telecommunications Rights
In May, two JA members went to Nairobi, Kenya to attend the 9th International CURE conference, with 28 countries represented. See the photo below. A key issue at the conference was the issue of telecommunications and technology access for detainees around the globe. The conference concluded with unanimous support of all participants of the Nairobi Declaration. The international Declaration is the first of its kind to enshrine the rights of detainee access to telecommunications.
The Declaration states that all detainees have the human right to:
- Communicate with others through telecommunication : email, messaging and video calls,
- Express themselves publicly
- Receive publicly available information, including but not limited to legal, telehealth, education, and counselling information.
- Earn payment through services rendered in their private time, enabling them to maintain their families, contribute to society and prepare for release.
- Access such services on the same level of availability and financial basis as water, food, and bedding.
Guns and smiles: the Justice Action banner displayed in front of Nairobi West Prison
Prison Authorities’ panel endorses Nairobi Declaration Principles in Adelaide
The world’s leading professional body for corrections and prisons, ICPA (International Corrections & Prisons Association), held the Corrections Technology Conference in Adelaide, South Australia from 23 – 25 May 2023. Two representatives from Justice Action attended the conference and introduced the Nairobi Declaration for Detainee Telecommunication Rights to the 300 delegates, seeking their support. The opening panel participants expressed agreement with the Declaration’s principles. The ICPA and several delegates, including sponsors, are now reviewing the possibility of formally endorsing it! We continue to gather global support for this declaration and for your telecommunications rights.
Music in Prisons Report
Music is well documented to have not only psychological benefits but reduce recidivism rates in the prison population. Music programs require participants to step outside of their comfort zones and demonstrate dedication through initiative, persistence and creativity. Music is the universal language, connecting people together and to their communities. The Music in Prisons paper we created working with the Community Justice Coalition, discusses the benefits that music programs have on the wellness of prisoners and includes research from prisons internationally who have shown success in this area. This report was distributed to all Prison Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Greens Spokespeople and Commissioners across Australia. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.
This report proposed an app called BandLab where the prisoners are able to make their own songs, receive tuition from outside teachers and collaborate with other students on their own time. BandLab is recommended for the initial steps of a music program. BandLab helps to create music at any place and it also has an idea generator to help inspire songwriting and new music. BandLab is a free program that works on MAC, PC and other devices.
Studies have shown that prisoners who engage in meaningful activities that keep their minds occupied while incarcerated have fewer violent incidents and better mental health and recidivism outcomes once their term of incarceration is complete. The ability to create music has far-reaching and therapeutic impacts and creates change in the prison environment.
Music has the power to promote rehabilitation and wellbeing. Access to music would reduce the chance of people in prison to reoffend, and it is evident that any kind of music program will help build emotional resilience and self-esteem. Music improves the lives of people in prisons and better prepares them for re-entry into their communities after they are released back into society. In 2024 we will continue to lobby representatives to allow you to access services such as these.
Current situation of Computers in Cells
We have been informed by the authorities that currently all prisoners in NSW and other states have access to tablets or laptops in their cells. Would you let us know so we can talk with good information?
- Do you have access to a tablet/computer/laptop in your cell? If not, where can you access them?
- Do you have headphones/keyboard?
- What functions/websites are available? Are they helpful? What do you want to access additionally?
- What purposes do you use them for? Phone? Email?
- Is cost a problem?
- Have you experienced problems/glitches/bugs with them? What technical support do you get?
- Are you given pathways through which to access online educational resources? Do you use them for education?
- Can you access TAFE or University education such as Curtin University or University of Southern Queensland or Southern Cross University?
- Is there anything else we should know? What do you friends think?
A bronze artefact of a 17 year old’s arm with broken chain and tablet called ‘Freed’. It was created to commemorate the breakthrough
Among all prisoners, young detainees are the most neglected and underprivileged. Although adult prisoners in NSW have been equipped with personal tablets, youth detainees do not receive the same. The NSW Minister for Youth Justice, Jihad Dib, has recently responded that tablets will be available to youth detainees, shortly after his top bureaucrat committed to doing it by this financial year.
Youth are digital natives, yet they are subjected to unnecessary isolation and segregation away from support. They cost $1M a year to lockup and have much higher recidivism than adults. Youth become dangerously bored and distracted by the damaging effects within a prison. Ensuring that youths have the same opportunities to learn and interact as other kids will likely determine the course of their lives, and provide the skills and knowledge necessary for a better future.
We published a paper called Recidivism: The Way Forward with the Community Justice Coalition. It was presented in October to the NSW Minister for Corrections, Mr Anoulack Chanthivong and distributed nationally. This extensive report draws on international research of the factors contributing to recidivism and provides tangible, evidence-based solutions.
You will know only too well the ways prison authorities could facilitate people not returning to prison – redirecting effort to what prisoners actually need to get on with their lives. Like: improving housing options on release, maintaining positive friend and family connections, averting unnecessary pressures of further prison damage, access to personal and vocational skill development. It acknowledges that imprisonment itself is an important factor in causing reoffending.
Incentives proven in Australia, such as being able to “earn early release” or other “remission” mechanisms were included. Instead of fuelling recidivism and costly incarceration, it supports ways that prisoners’ sentences could be shortened through actively participating in the community, providing a portal for external skill development programs, and other opportunities for personal growth.
Highly recommended is peer mentoring in prison. Large-scale research has found that individuals who accessed vocational and academic education have a 43% lower chance of re-offending than those who did not. This will enable people to financially support themselves and their family, hold and develop employability, enhance personal and societal wellbeing and mental health, by providing prisoners with what they need to pursue their preferred pathways upon release, and to stay out!
Instead of feeling like a jailbird being chucked out of the prison nest, it is about post-release support not simply being monitored and treated as a felon. Beyond copping even more monitoring, this report zeros in on what actually encourages success via comprehensive post-release support: from housing to health to viable employment. We believe that it is useful to guide prison authorities to focus on real steps to lower recidivism rate and can vastly smooth out the reintegration challenges that each individual has to tackle.
The report was distributed to all Australian Attorneys-General, Ministers and Shadow Ministers for Corrections and Commissioners of Corrective Services, with requests to implement its recommendations and to look at prisons themselves as a defining barricade to rehabilitation. Instead of talking about prisoners but keeping one hand tied behind one’s back, it’s about the system actually providing options for prisoners to benefit. So instead of always being told, prisoners can identify and reach out for what can work for them, towards achieving a common aim – to successfully stay out of prison and positively look forward and get ahead with one’s life!
Mental Health Inquiry
NSW is currently running a Mental Health Inquiry into the Equity and Accessibility of Mental Health Services which was launched in July to achieve systemic reforms. Justice Action was invited to input and submitted five reports on issues directly impacting prisoners and criminal justice issues: from driving down coercive practices including chemical restraint and community treatment orders; and first responder alternatives to police during a crisis intervention.
We don’t want our community to be called ‘sick people’ and be forcibly or otherwise medicated. Prison-induced psychosis due to isolation needs to be called out and conditions made bearable.
This Inquiry is continuing into next year. Progress in the Computers in Cells campaign should provide a secure and confidential portal for prisoners to choose and engage with external support services, so that trusted counselling and psychological services occurring during personal time in cells can soon be a reality.
Medicare for prisoners
The Australian Government guarantees equal access to quality healthcare to all Australians including prisoners. However, people in prison have been excluded as healthcare services are presumed to be offered by the state or territory. In fact prisoners are known to have worse health and greater needs than the general population, and the services are not equal. This is not disputed. Even Justice Health supports medicare access for prisoners. Psychologists for example, do assessment for release but not trusted for counselling. To tackle this discrepancy, Justice Action is negotiating the establishment of confidential telehealth services, so prisoners can choose to engage in their own private time in their cell, with access to external psychologists to provide assistance for prisoners coping with tensions.
This proposal was submitted to the current NSW Mental Health Inquiry, and is a crucial part of our ongoing Computers in Cells campaign. Medicare for prisoners would mean access to your own health services, including specialist indigenous health services, continuation of care upon release and greater autonomy over medical support and treatment.
Australian Prisoners Union
Recognising prisoners as a community with a collective position of shared values and experiences enables prisoners to consider and address issues relating to OPCAT inspections, Work Health and Safety, and feed back into various wellness and complaints processes. It was officially formed in 1999 and has a legal form with a constitution giving power to all its members. The main objective of the APU is to acknowledge people in prison as a community and to uphold their rights, interests, and welfare. Prisoners know best what really happens on the ground each day, and know what is most needed.
The APU could address local and systemic prison issues including: payment of proper employment entitlements for prisoners undertaking work; freedom of association for prisoners; prisoner control of prisoners’ services and improved education and services to enable positive and durable transition into the community. The APU could harness prisoner participation and ownership of its own solutions.
A consultative group of ex-prisoners across Australia, worked on this last year to get union status before the Fair Work Commission along with Prison Officer Unions and others but wasn’t successful. It would require care and consultation to empower local prison committees to be part of an effective representative voice. Work to be done!
What we look forward to achieving in 2024
- Access to computers in cells for Youth Justice
- Access to music, art and education for all
- More programs available on tablets
- Consultations on issues