There is a deep relational chasm between incarcerated peoples in Australia and those who create the legislation that impacts them. In response, Justice Action seeks to be a voice for the people who have had theirs restricted. We ask the question: ‘Who are the people behind the statistics?’
To be as effective and comprehensive as possible in our response to issues facing incarcerated peoples, our organisation comprises six teams; Letters, Prisoner Education, Human Rights, Mental Health, Deaths in Custody, and Media.
Our Letters team engages on a personal level with incarcerated peoples. We have two PO boxes through which we receive letters from people throughout Australia, and we strive to respond efficiently with respect and empathy. In addition to being a valuable tool for improving the mental health of incarcerated peoples, this practice is essential to keeping Justice Action up-to-date on real-time situations concerning incarcerated peoples.
Our Prisoner Education team facilitates the tertiary education of incarcerated people throughout Australia, acting as an intermediary between prisons and Universities. Education has proven success in reducing rates of recidivism and easing the transition back into society, yet many inmates struggle to obtain education due to a lack of resources or University unwillingness. Justice Action’s Prisoner Education team, in conjunction with the Community Justice Coalition, aims to ease this process.
Our Human Rights team studies domestic and international legal structures relating to incarcerated peoples and advises on areas of improvement. Recently we have been working on developing a document to guide the creation of an Asian Human Rights Commission, researching the Victorian Criminal Justice System Inquiry, and raising awareness of Australia’s violation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture through the Forced Medication of People with Disability. Most pertinent, however, is our work on the risk COVID-19 poses to incarcerated peoples. Due to overcrowding and the inability to social distance, incarcerated people are three times more likely than civilians to become infected with COVID-19. We have recently initiated legal proceedings alongside the National Justice Project to force the NSW Government to deal more effectively with the rapidly developing COVID-19 outbreak situation in NSW prisons.
Our Mental Health team researches the current state of mental health amongst incarcerated peoples to advise strategies for improvement. Our most recent project is an assessment of the effectiveness of Community Treatment Orders (CTOs)––injunctions stating that consumers within a mental health facility may be legally mandated to accept medication, therapy, counselling, management, and rehabilitation. We argue that this is ineffective and disrespectful, and advise for an increased awareness amongst consumers about their rights under the Mental Health Act (NSW), which requires consumers subject to CTO’s to be included in the decision-making process, in so far as reasonably possible. We recently completed a submission for the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
Our Deaths in Custody team researches and advises on the complex issue of prisoner deaths while in custody. Our most recent work includes the creation of a manual of best practice for Restraint, which is an alarmingly common cause of death for incarcerated people.
The Media team manages the public presence and image of Justice Action. We use traditional and social media outlets to publicise the major achievements of Justice Action and raise awareness about wider issues regarding prisoner rights. Justice Action recently took part in a Press Conference outside the Supreme Court calling on the State Government to deal appropriately with the Covid crisis inside prisons. In addition to this, the Media team creates and distributes Justice Action’s publication ‘Just Us’, which is the only publication distributed to incarcerated people around Australia.
We have also been working to establish the Australian Prisoners Union founded on the philosophy that human rights should not end at the prison gate. The Australian Prisoners Union focuses on a range of issues within the Australian prison system, including access to Legal Aid, work health and safety, payment of proper employment entitlements, visiting rights, freedom of association, banning invasive visitor searches, entitlements to computers in cells, and improved education and rehabilitation services.