An Update on Computers in Cells
24 November 2021
In a letter to Justice Action, Acting Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) Kevin Corcoran has provided an updated status of computers in cells. Currently, he estimates around 7,000 prisoners have a device that they can use after lock-in hours. CSNSW has 600 existing tablets that were introduced following the visitation suspension from the 17th March 2020. These are used for COVID-19 purposes, like audiovisual (AVL) visits. More than 315,000 video social visits have occurred.
In October 2021, Deputy Commissioner Grant stated in a Budget Estimates Committee (BEC) on Counter Terrorism and Corrections that the CSNSW has since been able to roll out 5,485 new in-cell tablets to 10 correctional centres in NSW. These are the John Morony and Dillwynia, Lithgow, Mannus, Mid North Coast, Shortland, Mary Wade, Dawn De Loas, Geoffrey Pearce, and South Coast correctional centres.
Grant went on to say that the CSNSW plans to continue with this roll-out in the future, over the next two to three years, to eventually expand to the remaining centres. He identified that $23 million is confirmed for the first tranche of funding to assist with this. It aims to not only fund the tablets, but also infrastructure, such as private booths for psychologist consultations, and other tools, such as “live virtual therapy” or a “high-quality learning management system”. However, there is no mention of current access to whitelisted websites. Compiling a list of permitted websites, such as online services and legislation, would allow inmates to access appropriate support and educational resources. Including whitelisting in future commitments to equal access, is key to the success of implementing tablets in cells. Nevertheless, Anthony Roberts commented on how tablets are “changing prisoners’ lives”. He elaborated that tablets “can be used for legal representation, telephone calls, course work or any therapy sessions”
Computer tablets and technology hold significant value for inmates and the prison system as a whole. It is especially crucial given COVID-19 and the resulting isolation suffered by detainees. This is demonstrated in the example of England and Wales prisons, whose digital technologies have discovered many benefits. These include prisoner self esteem, life management capabilities, mental wellbeing, better maintenance of outside familial relationships, and reduced tensions between prisoners due to accessing phones. Consequently, this can reduce reoffending. Mr David Shoebridge stated in the BEC hearing that “returning those community and family connections is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism”. The burden on prison staff lessens too, as some time-consuming tasks like processing administrative applications are made easier. The technology acts as an incentive for good behaviour. While there are security concerns, these risks can be mitigated and managed with a consolidated plan. When asked if tablet facilities would be made available to each inmate in New South Wales over the next two financial years, Deputy Commissioner Grant confirmed that this was intended.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Corrective Services, Australia, June Quarter 2021 (Catalogue No 4512.0, 16 September 2021).
Aysha Kerr and Matthew Willis, Prisoner Use of Information and Communications Technology (Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No 560, October 2018).
Community Justice Coalition, ACT Computers in Cells, (Report, 18 October 2017)
Emma J Palmer, Ruth M Hatcher and Matthew J Tonkin, Evaluation of Digital Technology in Prisons, (Ministry of Justice Analytical Series, June, 2020)
Letter from Acting Commissioner Kevin Corcoran to Brett Collins, (15 November 2021)
Portfolio Committee for Counter Terrorism and Corrections (No. 5 – Legal Affairs, p 16-17, 5 November 2021)