Details of some current and past campaigns
Below is a list of some leading current campaigns and underneath is a history of past campaign work.
Details of some current campaigns
1. Youth Crime JA/Mission Australia Partnership
JA is working with Mission Australia to conduct a series of mentoring workshops for many young people in the Campbelltown/ Hornsby area of Sydney, who have been identified as being at risk of becoming offenders. The JA mentoring presentation is designed to assist them to understand the consequences of their actions based on our experiences and work through ways to ensure they do not offend. We encourage them to develop personal and social skills so that they can move forward with their lives in positive and productive ways. We link them to local services and to training opportunities.
2. Youth Naming and Shaming.
Currently before the NSW Parliament is a legislative proposal to discourage children from committing offences by publicly naming and shaming them if they offend. JA was invited to make written and personal submissions on the proposal to the Legislative Council Law and Justice Committee. When we appeared before the committee our major submission was that the emphasis in dealing with juvenile offenders should not be on naming and shaming but on restorative programs of which JA Mentoring is a prime example. The committee made up of representatives from all sides of politics showed considerable interest in our mentoring program and how it worked and its many successes. Transcript download (48kb)
3. Smoking – right to choose for Mental Health Consumers and Prisoners
The NSW Department of Health has set up a taskforce with a view to the implementation of NSW smoke free policies in NSW mental health inpatient facilities. Several mental health professionals and advocacy groups have contacted JA to seek our assistance in opposing this proposal.
JA very strongly believes that to impose such a ban on a particularly vulnerable section of society when the same ban is not imposed on the larger community, is not only undemocratic but also imposes a disproportionate level of suffering on those who are already suffering enough. We support the right to choose and not be forced to lose the most important personal pleasure that 80% of patients enjoy and currently control. We have been provided with considerable evidence of the benefits for mental health patients of being allowed to continue smoking when combined with smoke free areas to protect the health of those who do not smoke.
In our submission, it would be far better for the Department to introduce smoking intervention education programs and tools such as Nicorette and patches for mental health patients in these institutions, than banning smoking altogether. In conjunction with the people and organizations that have contacted us, we have prepared a response in the form of a submission to the Taskforce. We have created the right to choose the alliance website.
4. Visiting mothers of Emu Plains
Problems Encountered by Children Visiting Mothers Emu Plains Correctional Centre for women is a low-security prison near Sydney. It became a women’s prison in 1996, and until May 2007, had all day visits every weekend and public holidays. This was a great incentive for women to be classified low risk and moved to Emu Plains so that they could spend time with their children, family and friends with the all-day visits. The majority of women in prison are mothers and rely heavily on visits to maintain the bond and contact with their children.
In May 2007, the administration changed the visiting regime without consultation, by introducing 2 hour visiting blocks separated by a lunch break. The effect caused significant distress to mothers and their children yet the administration said that the mothers wanted it – a lie! JA received numerous letters of complaint from women prisoners. In addition many state and local parliamentarians, churches and community groups have been vocal in their criticism of the Departments actions and outraged by its insensitivity.
Questions were asked in Parliamentary hearings, lies told and exposed and a representative of JA was even banned from visiting all NSW prisons for talking to and handing out leaflets to other visitors.
JA is working with families and prisoners to bring back all day visits.
5. Communication Rights for prisoners
There has been a disturbing and growing trend for prison authorities to ban prisoners from having access to legitimate published materials that are freely available in the community. This isolates prisons from the community and extends the exclusion to ideas and civil interaction.
Recent examples include the banning of prisoners in some states from receiving ‘How to Vote’ cards at election times which is widely seen as unconstitutional and the banning of our nationally published newspaper Just Us from prisons in 3 states (5 states and territories allow it in).
Our newspapers have been distributed nationally in all prisons in all states and territories and to all judges and politicians in Australia for many years (in fact, for 47 editions under the masthead, Framed). In NSW legal proceedings were taken late last year by a former inmate in the Supreme Court seeking an order that a refusal by Corrective Services to allow our newspaper’s distribution in NSW prisons be lifted.
Although he was unsuccesssful because of a technical problem with his legal standing, the Judge commented that she did not see anything in the publication ‘that could be said to prejudice the good order of the prisons.’ and had real doubts as to whether the Commissioner had considered the paper on its merits.
Some Past Campaigns
* Forced the exposure and reform of the corrupt police practice of concocting confessions called the police verbal.
* Assisted the successful High Court challenge to return the prisoner right to vote. Were asked to present the case for prisoners before the Senate Inquiry in 2006.
* Hosted the Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition ICOPA XI in Tasmania in 2006 and organised it for London in 2008.
* Hosted the defence of those accused of the Hilton Hotel bombing and employed the coordinator of the successful Anderson, Dunn and Alister campaign.
* Initiated the Stop the Women’s Jail Campaign after the government rejection of the 126 submissions against the prison and only Corrective Services for it. Employed Kerry Nettle (later Senator) as the Coordinator.
* In conjunction with TAFE, created a community mentoring course with special modules to address the needs of those in tension with the law. The 22 graduates were mainly ex-prisoners.
* As the only group invited to make an oral presentation to the Senate Inquiry into the Crimes (Forensic Procedures) Act in December 2000, we defended the privacy of human genetic material against the top four experts from the Attorney-General and the Federal Police.
* After the Nagle Royal Commission exposures and government inaction, ran a private prosecution against ten Grafton and Bathurst prison officers and a doctor for 4 months working with law students and thirty two prisoner witnesses.
* Distributed the only questionnaire to prisoners during the NSW Drug Summit 1999 and had six MP crossbenchers write the participation of Justice Action is absolutely crucial to deliberations at the Summit.
* Supervised hundreds of people on community service orders since 1984.
* Worked with Women Behind Bars to successfully change the law on provocation in domestic violence murder cases, around the Bruce and Violet Roberts Blockade.
* Coordinated the NSW Criminal Justice Coalition for two and a half years.
* Facilitated the creation of the Australian Prisoners Union in 1999.
* Successfully defended the prisoners right to vote nationally in 1997, giving the only oral evidence at the Senate Inquiry.
* Part of the initiating committee for the NSW Prisoners Legal Service following the Nagle Royal Commission.
* Took up a position as a foundation member on the Justice Health Consumer Council monitoring the health of all NSW prisoners.
* Lobbied for the Wood Royal Commission and brought evidence on numerous issues including wrongful convictions and followed for case reviews.
* Consistently pressured the government to control the spread of blood borne communicable diseases in prisons through the immediate availability of condoms, clean syringes and dental dams.
* Justice Action was acknowledged in Parliament by Liberal barrister Jeremy Kinross as consistently standing for truth.
* Coordinated the Justice Action Mulawa Project which saw volunteer law students and solicitors visiting Mulawa Correctional Centre weekly and the circulation of plain English legal/prison issue booklets into Mulawa.
* Held the position as Australian Coordinator for International Prison Watch.
* Initiated recommendations made in the Prison Visitors Survey Report and worked with Corrective Services to propose changes.
* Initiated ex-prisoner Richard Lynott’s case against the government for negligence due to their failure to supply clean needles and syringes in prison, causing his death.
* In conjunction with Pride, Justice Action succeeded in having the KM1 herbal trial available for HIV+ prisoners.
* Justice Action co-hosted the first national conference of Community-based Criminal Justice Activists.
* Initiated the computer project, which had over 100 computers donated to prisons from the corporate and community sector.
Review of the Royal Commission Inquiry
An End of Decade View of the Royal Commission Recommendations into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. April 1991/April 2001.
In late 1987 the Hawke Government finally relented and called for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. 124 deaths were presented to the Commissioners but they only investigated 99 which occurred between 1980 – 1989. Not one police, custodial or jail officer was found guilty of any substantial wrongdoing.
During April 1991, the Commissioners handed down their collective wisdom in the form of 339 Recommendations. Roughly half of these dealt with the so-called justice system for Indigenous people. These Recommendations were mainly intended to keep Aboriginal people out of jail and stressed the need for prisons as a last resort. They were aimed at bringing about change relating to the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with the police, courts and jails. With what success?
We held the line! News release Sept 25 News report Statement
After a six month campaign responding to a petition from mental patients held in the Long Bay prison hospital, the government has passed control from Prisons to Health. This acknowledges the rights of mental patients to treatment.
In the High Court decision made on the 30th of August 2007 prisoners serving a sentence of less than 3 years won back their right to vote.
In light of this decision JA has taken continued action to ensure that eligible prisoners have the opportunity to enrol and vote in the upcoming 2007 Federal election.
Victory for Australian Prisoners
The line was drawn in the sand on this issue when the government said it would remove the prisoners vote. On 30 Aug 2007, we won in the High Court of Australia. This is a win for every person who wants to talk and listen rather than to dominate and exclude others.
September 8, 2007.
JUSTICE ACTION representing convicts in the host Penal Colony of Australia, having regained their right to political expression returning the prisoner vote in the High Court of Australia, now exercise that right of political expression.
Torture is the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) nations’ norm said Justice Action spokesperson Brett Collins today. We prisoners of the APEC nations condemn those governments for…
In March 2008, Justice Action received a letter from Mr. Barry Collier MP, assistant to the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, in which he responded to the ongoing, restrictive visitation system currently in place at Emu Plains Correctional Centre.
Having been in regular contact with inmates, former inmates, and their familiesthose who are experiencing the changed visitation policies firsthandJustice Action circulated Mr. Collier’s letter amongst the group for comment. Their overwhelming response leads us to believe that Corrective Services is continuing to spread seriously misleading information regarding the current policy and the impact that it is having on all those involved.
More Lies: Parliamentary Committee Hearing Findings
At the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 (Justice, Juvenile Justice) meeting held on 17 November 2006, Greens MP Ms. Rhiannon raised the concern that the Minister of Justice’s representative Mr. McLean misled the 28 August 2006 inquiry.
Thursday Aug 14th. Media release Prison officers and Corrective Services are before the Industrial Relations Commission today. The 6 day strike was lifted to negotiate. It was about the effects of the reduced staffing at the Long Bay Hospital. It means that Justice Minister Hatzistergos has the total Long Bay prison community in crisis due to his callous attempt to cut costs and remove 28 prison officer positions.
The effect on the patients have been horrific. Normally such vulnerable people would be exempt from the effects of industrial action. This total isolation for mentally ill people will cause immense damage amounting to torture. Service providers have expressed horror at this latest escalation. It means that Premier Iemma can no longer abandon responsibility to his minister. He had made assurances to Parliament as Health Minister that oblige him to be involved.
NEW HOSPITAL MOVE
Patients have been moved to the new hospital close by the old one, but the conditions have become worse.
Abolition of Prisons – ICOPA X11 Conference – London 2008
ICOPA XII, the International Conference on Penal Abolition will be in London in July 2008. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the host. Details including registration are on their website.
The conference will discuss the impact of the penal system on our communities and provide suggestions for new and alternative approaches. It will look at custody and community interventions as alternatives to imprisonment; prisons and the politics of poverty; the role of the media and public opinion; and the role of privatisation and capitalism in penal policy today.
ICOPA XII will host international speakers dealing with the ancillary, fiscal and human costs of crime and punishment in the 21st century and will look at other possibilities and approaches outside of a failing crime control agenda.JA hosted the conference in Tasmania in 2006. We are preparing our presentation and will link with prisoners in their expressions.
A new prison is opening in the ACT in 2008. Whilst we opposed it and are disappointed with this because we believe prisons cause crimes not solve them, a new prison in a new jurisdiction where there never was a jail, opens up opportunities for us to get the authorities to adopt fresh approaches to working with prisoners.
We are part of the ACT Community Coalition on Corrections working with other ACT groups on initiatives that will lessen the damage.
Bullying/ Vengeance/ Intolerance Tagging the Undesirable
Society has developed tags as a means of identifying and dealing with unacceptable behaviour. Tagging can lead to effective personal and societal responses to deal with undesirable behaviour such as racism and sexism.
In our society, including our prison system, there has been a growth of unacceptable behaviour involving mental and physical bullying springing from such emotions as intolerance and vengeance rather than forgiveness and focusing on a person’s past rather than their future. This has lead to sections of society literally going to war against individuals (John Lewthwaite is an example of this).
To combat this type of behaviour, we are looking to create a tag that will instinctively describe with a view to deploring this type of behaviour.
Christmas Day Visit to Prisoners
Last year in NSW, for the first time in 16 years, a ban was imposed on Christmas Day visits to prisoners after industrial action was taken by the prison officers union, when the Department refused to pay the overtime rate demanded by them. The suffering this caused not only to prisoners themselves but in particular, their wives and children was considerable. Over 2600 prospective visitors in NSW were affected.
JA is working with church groups to get Christmas Day visits reinstated.
Communication Rights for Defence of Prisoners
There has been a disturbing and growing trend for prison authorities to ban prisoners from having access to legitimate published materials that are freely available in the community.
Recent examples include the banning of prisoners in some states from receiving ‘How to Vote’ cards at election times which is seen as clearly unconstitutional and the banning of our nationally published newspaper Just Us from prisons in 3 states (5 states and territories allow it in). Our newspaper has been distributed nationally in all prisons in all states and territories for many years (previously under the masthead, Framed).
In NSW we took legal proceedings in the Supreme Court late last year seeking an order that a ban imposed on its distribution in NSW prisons by Corrective Services be lifted. We are waiting for the verdict to be handed down. We are hopeful that the decision will lay down some important legal principles on the right of prisoners to receive published materials that are freely available in the community.
Community Service Orders Accreditation for Breakout
Breakout is a sister organisation to JA and for over 23 years has been accredited to supervise community service orders for offenders in NSW. During that time Breakout worked with great success with a large number of the most difficult offenders, to such an extent that it received acknowledgement as being the best agency in the area.
Last year for no apparent reason, Breakout’s accreditation was withdrawn. Questions were asked in Parliament and a number of letters sent to the Department and the relevant Minister seeking reasons for this inexplicable act. We have recently been advised that Breakout will be invited along with all other CSO organizations in NSW to reapply for accreditation. The process will commence in March 2008 and we hope that soon Breakout will once again be proudly and successfully fulfilling its supervisory role in this important program.
Complaint Mechanism – Inspector General of Prisons Role Return
The Department of Corrective Services is unique in that it is the only Department in which the government has total control over its citizens. This requires extra care to ensure that its extraordinary powers are not abused. Accordingly, it is necessary for there to be stringent accountability, safeguards and specialist knowledge in and around the Department. This is carried out in states other than NSW by the office of Inspector General of Prisons.
The office of Inspector General in NSW prisons was abolished some time ago because the government claimed the Ombudsman fulfilled that role. In practice, the Ombudsman has refused to examine any discretionary decision made by the Department even if was clearly wrong or unreasonable claiming that prisoners must prove the decision amounted to legal bias. This is but one example of the many problems that have arisen since the office of the Inspector General was abolished. JA is campaigning to have the office reinstated.
Computers in Cell
At the moment, prisoners around Australia generally have the right to view TV. With the coming of the communication revolution, computers have become almost an essential tool in the day to day lives of our citizens. We would like computers to receive the same widespread acceptance currently enjoyed by TVs in our prisons.
Computers would be of immense assistance to prisoners in a wide range of activities such as preparation of defence submissions and educating prisoners through not only programs on the computer but using the computer itself. Communicating with family and friends would also be much easier and the boredom of everyday life in prison could be relieved with computer games.
We recognise that full internet access may not be acceptable but access to some sites through a server would be both possible and desirable. Computers have been allowed in other prisons around the world and we intend looking at those overseas experiences with a view to putting together a model for adoption in Australia.
Crime Caused by Imprisonment
Many politicians say that the key to reducing crime is to imprison more offenders and punish them during their incarceration to deter them and others from reoffending. That is the “top down” authority approach that fails also in parenting.
JA is of the opposite view and believes that crime is a community problem only able to be dealt with in the community – “bottom up”. We know that prisons in fact cause crime. In most western countries people are more respectful of each other due to greater wealth and global communication. Real crime rates have decreased rapidly. But against the trend to a safer community has been the disturbance caused by the release of prisoners, citizens debased by their prison experience, alienated from their communities, with no home, family, job or social support. Over 60% reoffend, often within weeks of release, with almost half back in prison within two years. The cost of that failure is paid by victims as well as taxpayers. Only the prison industry wins. The successful alternatives of restorative justice and mentoring are ignored.
It is our aim to abolish prisons altogether. In 2006 JA hosted ICOPA XI on penal abolition in Hobart. This year the conference will be held in London. Through conferences such as these and allied campaigns we will create the momentum for change.
Disarm the Police – Listen, Don’t Shoot!
We are living in a society where police are being given access to more and more invasive weapons and resources to control their fellow citizens. Examples include water cannon, taser stun guns, glock machine pistols and the much hated APEC walls. At the same time, funding for Neighbourhood Watch programs and the promotion of community responsibility programs has been reduced or removed.
This has lead to events such as the riots in Redfern and Macquarie Fields and the tragic and unjustified killing of Roni Levy on Bondi Beach.
Politicians and police have been instrumental in encouraging citizens to develop a siege mentality to support the use of more and more forceful weapons of intervention.
JA believes there is a need for the police to understand that their presence is as a service to the community, not a military force to be used against the community. The use of terrorist hype by politicians to justify more weapons and restrictions on personal freedoms is unjustified given the number of actual terrorist events. Money would be better spent on such things as research into heart disease, cancer and diseases associated with alcohol and cigarettes that by comparison cost far more lives than terrorism.
JA is working with concerned citizen groups and parliamentarians to press for widespread changes in community attitudes and the doing away of militarising our police force. Instead we want to see upgraded community responsibility programs and an added focus on community involvement rather than the existing brutal controls on the behaviour of citizens imposed by government and the police.
Emu Plains – Problems Encountered by Children Visiting Mothers
Emu Plains Correctional Centre for women is a low security prison near Sydney. There is a Mothers & Children program housed in the Jacaranda Cottages that form part of the main complex. All women have to be a C2 classification (i.e. considered a low risk) to be accepted at the centre including the main complex. Emu Plains became a womens prison in 1996, and has always had all day visits every weekend and public holidays.
Throughout this 10-year period women would purposefully try to be classified low risk and moved to Emu Plains so that they could spend time with their children, family and friends. This is considered essential for the well-being of the women as they move towards their eventual release from prison. The majority of women in prison are mothers and therefore rely heavily on visits to maintain the bond and contact with their children.
In 2007, Correctional Services changed the visiting regime by introducing on each visiting 2, 2 hour visiting blocks separated by a lunch break. A restrictive booking system for visits was also imposed.
The combined effect of these changes has been to severely disrupt these visits and cause significant distress to mothers and their children. It is also contrary to accepted national and international practices.
JA has received numerous letters of complaint from women prisoners. In addition many state and local parliamentarians, churches and community groups have been vocal in their criticism of the Departments actions and outraged by their insensitivity. Questions have been asked in Parliament and a representative of JA has even been banned from visiting all NSW prisons as a result of him trying to hand out leaflets in support of the women outside the prison.
JA is working with those opposed to the changes to coordinate a campaign to persuade the Department to bring back the previous visiting arrangements.
Food Preparation by Prisoners
JA believes that prisoners should have the right to prepare their own food as a cultural and personal entitlement. It teaches them new skills and gives them autonomy and control over a critical part of their life. It also teaches them about hygiene and gives them the opportunity to consider food preparation as a career.
JA intends to press the Department to introduce initiatives such as access to cooking facilities and educational programs that will encourage prisoners to prepare their own food.
Historical Positives and Our Prison System
Australia’s history, our people and our penal system are inextricably entwined. In spite of the misery the system has caused so many people, we believe we should attempt to bring into focus and celebrate some of the worthwhile characteristics that our predecessors have developed to deal with the adversity of such a harsh system that in turn have shaped our national character. Mateship, the idea of a fair go, loyalty to friends and family are examples of these characteristics.
We will organise an event that brings history and the present together involving people from all walks of life who have experienced the prison system to reflect on this aspect of our history. We want to use the event to identify and celebrate how our national character has been shaped by our responses to such ill-treatment and how we can use the lessons learned from previous generations to deal with the injustices that the prison system continues to impose on our citizen’s lives.
Health is really an important area for prisoners. Drug dependency, mental health issues and Hepatitis C infection rates of 50% make solving those problems key to changing people’s lives and futures. Or the prisons can continue as a hothouse of infection for the general community.
Justice Health as part of the Health Dept is legally required to provide services to prisoners at the same level as the rest of the community. However it has become subservient to prison authority, lacking responsibility and compassion, allowing prisoners to be neglected in physical and mental health areas. It is compromised from the Board level to the delivery of services.
The Justice Health Consumer Group of which JA was part from when it began, no longer has physical prisoner representation but a patchy teleconference presence. Little attention is paid to what they or other community representatives have to say. The Health Dept requires that it exist – so it does. A good example of this disdain for consumers is a movement by Justice Health towards banning smoking in prisons. This has no support from the prisoner representatives or prisoners themselves, 80% of whom smoke. JA took up the issue and it resulted in the termination of our membership of the Justice Health Consumer Group. Our removal without discussion or appeal tells the whole story. We were doing our job and were continuously told by other community members that our presence was essential.
Justice Health needs to accept responsibility for prisoners – the conditions that cause mental and physical illness need to be confronted and prisoners respected.
We’ve been around for many decades and during that time have developed relationships involving trust and understanding with many members of the media. Our relationship with media organisations is one of the most important assets we possess.
We must never take those relationships for granted and we need to renew and update them so that they remain effective. Although many may describe this campaign as a house keeping issue, the fact that we regard it as a campaign serves to emphasise how importantly we regard our relationships with the members of the Fifth Estate.
Mental Heath Dangerousness and Forensic Prisoners
Generally speaking, forensic prisoners exist in a sort of limbo between ‘involuntary patient’ and ‘convicted prisoner’ that in practice often results in them getting the worst of both worlds. Amongst just a few injustices are:
* Being denied the usual ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ provisions of usual criminal defendants. Special hearings operate on standards of evidence more akin to the ‘balance of probabilities’ used in civil cases;
* Being denied the sentence mitigating provisions available to criminal defendants, such as early guilty pleas or expressions of remorse; and
* The fact that they are sentenced to prison terms in the upper range of what is usually applied to those found guilty of equivalent offences.
During their incarceration, they are the worst treated class of prisoners by both fellow inmates and officers.
Their release is governed not by judicial examination but by the Mental Health Review Tribunal that is a government appointed body and is open to political interference.
JA believes that the whole system needs to be reviewed and widespread changes need to be made to the sentencing, incarceration and release of forensic prisoners. With the help of Friends of JA, we have developed a number of significant proposals that address many of our concerns. In particular, there is a proposal currently before the government that would ultimately mean the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of when a forensic prisoner is released rather than the current tribunal.
Mental Health/ JA Mentoring/ Accommodation at Callan Park
Callan Park is a hospital facility located in the inner west of Sydney which has for many years been used for the treatment and housing of mental health patients. The NSW government has proposed to change its use. JA supports its continued use as a mental health facility and we would like to obtain approval for a number of cottages on the site and other sections of the facility to be used for housing mental health consumers with a view to assisting their reintegration into society. We would also like to use those facilities for JA mentoring.
We are working with Friends of JA Mentoring and other community organisations to prepare a submission to the government.
Nowra Prison Proposed
The NSW government is proposing to build a prison at Nowra, about 90 minutes drive, south of Sydney. They say it is to help combat crime in the area. They have ignored the fact that there are only 152 offenders in the area and yet they propose to build a 500 bed facility.
In common with our belief that prisons create crime, JA is campaigning against the construction of the prison, which we believe will almost certainly result in an increase in crime in the area. We firmly believe that the $130 million set aside by the government to construct the facility would be much better spent on restorative programs as alternatives to incarceration. We are moving forward with a campaign for the area to lobby locals to prevent the proposal going ahead.
Offer of Hope
This prisoner initiative was made to governments to help break the cycle of destructive vengeance in our prisons. It was launched on International Human Rights Day 10 December 2005.
Prisoners in the dungeons of the HRMU segregation unit Goulburn Prison, Australia prepared the statement that formed this offer. It has been presented to governments without response. It requires them to recognise the humanity of those they torture. Our prison populations are rising yet governments only notice them when they can be used for political point-scoring and fear-mongering. Meanwhile, prisoners are being dehumanised by living in fear, being denied proper visits, access to health, education, or community building skills involving freedom of association and speech while inside. On release they have nothing to return to and no skills to survive.
Prisoners have responded with the Offer of Hope – an offer for dialogue, to help break the cycle of destructive vengeance in our prisons.
The Offer of Hope has attracted much support from politicians and community leaders. JA is campaigning for more support on a national basis and to that end will be writing to politicians in all states and territories to seek their support. In particular we recognise the opportunity in the ACT with a new prison and the opportunity of new values.
Parole – Mandatory Prison Programs
The Parole Board is requiring prisoners who are sex offenders to complete a prescribed program before they can be released on parole. These programs are not being made available to prisoners prior to their earliest release dates because Corrective Services say they do not have enough places available. This has meant that affected prisoners have had to give up parole time to do the courses irrespective of how well they have behaved during their time in prison.
JA has made a submission to a public advocacy organization that proceedings be taken requiring the Department to make places available. It is grossly unfair that prisoners should have to give up parole time through no fault of their own and just because the Department says it does not have the money to properly resource these programs.
In its submission, JA has stated its concern as to both the requirement of the Parole Board that prisoners must do these programs prior to their release on parole and indeed, the effectiveness of the programs themselves. But because there are over 100 prisoners currently affected at Long Bay alone, in their interests, we have made a policy decision to leave that issue until later to deal quickly with the immediate problem of their continued unjustified incarceration.
Possessory Rights of Prisoners
There are 3 issues as follows:
* The Right to Possession of Interest Earned on Prison Bank Accounts
Recently the government passed legislation enabling it to retain as its own, all interest earned on all prisoners bank accounts run through the prison system. Around $2.4 million of prisoners money is affected by this decision. JA see this legislation as being outrageous not just because it effectively takes money that would otherwise belong to prisoners, but also because by allowing prisoners to accumulate income during their incarceration, it helps them financially and teaches them good saving habits.
* The Right to Possession of a Business
This issue arose because of Rodney Adlers recent experiences when the Department announced prisoners were not permitted to run businesses. In Mr Adlers case, they decided he was operating a business (which ASIC subsequently decided was not correct), and penalised him by moving him to a higher security prison.
JA believes there is no legislative prohibition against a prisoner carrying on a business as long as the prisoner does not breach the Corporations Act provisions by acting in the capacity of a director of the company. In fact JA considers that to allow prisoners to run their own businesses whilst they are in prison is positively beneficial for them because it helps prisoners and their families financially as well as emotionally.
* The Right to Possession of Ideas and Expression of Experience
Governments around Australia have passed legislation preventing prisoners from either speaking to the media about their crimes or being paid for interviews with the media. In particular, the commonwealth has passed the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 which introduces the concept of literary proceeds orders.
In relation to speaking to the media, JA believes the public has the right to hear this information from the source itself and that there is much that the public can learn from the misfortunes of others, particularly if it comes from the person in question.
For instance, Schapelle Corby’s experience provides a valuable social, cultural and educational opportunity, which is most certainly in the public’s interest. She should have the right to tell her own story. By the same token, by preventing prisoners from talking about their experiences, the public is prevented from hearing the prisoner’s side of the story. The prohibition on David Hick’s speaking about his experience is an obvious example of this. In this way, the legislation impacts on freedom of speech and should be abolished. In relation to being paid for interviews, the blanket prohibition that currently exists can unfairly impact on prisoners with a legitimate story to tell particularly those who are in need of financial assistance.
JA is currently preparing a report on the issues with a view to taking further action.
Analysis of Acceptable Risk
JA believes that in order to judge what is an acceptable level of intervention from law enforcement authorities in our society, regard needs to be had to what our society regards as acceptable risks in our day to day lives.
For instance, cancer, which kills tens of thousands of people every year is not funded to the same extent as the war on terrorism that kills few (a good example is the $7.5 million spent so far by the AFP on the Haneef enquiry would that money have been better spent on cancer research?). Other aspects of our lives involving risk that we tend to regard as acceptable based on the small amounts of public monies spent on risk reduction include the use of motor vehicles, smoking and catching diseases such as the flu or aids.
We’d like to see some balance brought back into arguments about increases in police powers based on what we as a society, regard as acceptable risks. As a starting point, we believe society should focus more on tolerance of differences in our society than emotional calls by politicians for increases in police power.
Segregation – High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) at Goulburn, NSW
The HRMU at Goulburn is probably Australia’s most brutal prison. It contains segregation units and employs solitary confinement as a means of punishing and subduing prisoners. Worst of all, its activities are unmonitored by independent sources.
If Australia has a facility to compare with Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib , HRMU is it. JA is outraged that such a facility is permitted to exist in a supposedly civilised society.
Our ultimate aim is to have the facility closed altogether. In the short term we are campaigning for independent monitoring of the prison and the prisoners themselves and a commitment by the government to ensure the facility complies with recognised international standards prescribed by the United Nations.
Sex Offender Policy
There is a significant stigma in society against sex offenders. JA believes that in comparison to other offenders they are disproportionately demonised by both society and its regulators. In many cases penalties imposed on sex offenders for relatively minor offences are far more severe than those imposed on offenders who commit the most violent of crimes. In addition, the dependence of the Parole Board on treatment programs which anecdotally are of questionable effect and in some instances, create more problems than they solve needs to be examined.
JA is working with experts in the area preparing a paper that will suggest a better way to deal with sex offenders and community values.
Smoking Rights for Mental Health Consumers and Prisoners
The NSW Department of Health has set up a taskforce with a view to the implementation of NSW smoke free policies in NSW mental health inpatient facilities. Several mental health professionals and advocacy groups have contacted JA to seek our assistance in opposing this proposal.
JA strongly believes that to impose such a ban on a particularly vulnerable section of society when it will not impose the same ban on the larger community, is not only undemocratic but also imposes a disproportionate level of suffering on those who are already suffering enough. We have been provided with considerable evidence of the benefits of smoking for mental health patients when combined with smoke free areas to protect the health of those that do not smoke.
In our submission, it would be far better for the Department to introduce non smoking education programs and tools such as nicorettes and patches for mental health patients in these institutions, than banning smoking altogether. In conjunction with the people and organizations that have contacted us, we have prepared a response in the form of a submission to the Taskforce.
JA believes it is only a matter of time before an attempt is made to ban smoking in prisons. Many of the arguments that apply to smoking in mental health institutions also apply to prisons. We are prepared for the fight should it be necessary.
JA always has included victims of crime as part of our community representations and featured them and their concerns in articles on our website.
We are anxious to understand and get across issues involving victims because we believe that for restorative justice to be truly effective the needs of the victims must be properly addressed. We intend working with Friends of JA to identify and prioritise those issues to incorporate them into our mentoring and awareness programs.
Violence in Prisons
Prison violence is a major issue among prisoners and is one that requires urgent attention. JA aims to campaign against prisoner violence, making prisons safer for inmates. Current projects we are working on include the deaths in custody of inmates Craig Behr and Scott Simpson. JA has applied to the coroner’s court to participate in the upcoming second inquest of Craig Behr.
Voting by Prisoners – Enrolment/ Information Rights
Late last year, as a result of proceedings in the High Court that JA helped initiate, prisoners serving sentences of 3 years or less in all states and territories of Australia were returned the right to vote. Despite the decision, in a number of states, the prison authorities refused to allow the distribution of ‘How to Vote’ cards. Additionally, prisoners had practical problems in enrolling to vote from prison, particularly in proving their identity.
A submission has been sent to the Australian Electoral Commission asking that prisoners be permitted to use their prisoner identification cards as proof of identity and that a separate toll free enquiry line be established between prison wings in all prisons and the AEC. Further attempts to allow How to Vote cards into prisons will continue.
Working Prisoners’ Labour Rights
Many prisons in NSW employ prisoners on a commercial basis to perform services in workshops such as curtain making, electrical and trade workshops and food preparation. These activities earn income for the government.
Prisoners are paid a pittance for their services and do not enjoy the usual protections offered to other workers in NSW such as workers compensation. In addition, many have prison ‘privileges’ withdrawn if they do not work or if they are sacked from work. This could range from being denied access to family and visitors (or being only allowed ‘box’ visits where they can see but not touch their visitors), to being locked up in their cells when other prisoners are working through to being transferred to higher security jails with limited freedoms. These practices create a virtual slave workforce.
JA has been working with Unions NSW for an agreement covering all workers in NSW prisons that will address these concerns and also put in place a right for prisoners to have access to education.
Youth Crime – JA/Mission Australia Partnership
JA has been approached by Mission Australia to conduct a series of mentoring workshops for many young people in the Campbelltown/Hornsby area of Sydney, who have been identified as being at risk of becoming offenders.
JA mentors are putting together a presentation to be given progressively to groups of these young people starting in April 2008. The presentation is designed to assist them to understand the consequences of their actions based on our experiences and work through ways to ensure they do not offend. We want to encourage them to develop personal and social skills so that they can move forward with their lives in positive and productive ways.
Youth Naming and Shaming Legislation in NSW
There is currently before the NSW Parliament a proposal, which if passed into law would allow the names of all children who have committed offences to be published by the media. The object of the legislation is to discourage children from committing offences by knowing they will be publicly named and shamed.
JA has taken a very strong view that the legislation should not proceed. We were invited to make a submission to the Legislative Council Law and Justice Committee.
We appeared before that committee on 20 February 2008 to present our submission in person and answer questions from committee members. Our major submission was that the emphasis in dealing with juvenile offenders should not be on naming and shaming but be placed on restorative programs and, in particular, JA Mentoring. The committee showed considerable interest in our mentoring program and we were able to describe in detail how it worked and its many successes.