Prisoners’ Original Letters

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Minister Questioned about Letters 8/11/23

Prisoners have received original letters from their loved ones since the establishment of Australia as a penal colony in 1788. However, the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment (Inmate Mail) Regulation 2020 (NSW) now prevents prisoners from receiving original letters and envelopes.

Justice Action has received reports from prisoners regarding the photocopying of letters, often incomplete so that in many letters only the right-hand side is readable, and in some instances, up to one-third of the letter is unreadable. The improper photocopying of letters and destruction of the original is an unprecedented deprivation of a prisoner’s basic entitlement to receive the original letters and envelopes addressed to them.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, letters have become the primary form of physical communication between prisoners and their loved ones since in-person visitations have been restricted.

Whilst it is unclear what the exact motivation for this amendment was, it appears to be in response to prohibited goods and drug-related security concerns. This has always been an issue that prisons have been required to deal with and there is no justification for suddenly restricting prisoners’ rights as a response to this. The regulation strips a prisoner’s right to possession of letters and envelopes sent to them. Moreover, the improper photocopying of letters constitutes censorship which is a direct breach of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014(NSW).

In addition, photocopies of letters cannot capture details such as the scent of perfume or smudge of lipstick, which add irreplaceable sentimental value. Finally, the admissibility of copies of documents in court is a further issue,
especially when the copy has been unlawfully edited or photocopied poorly, resulting in incomplete or unreadable information.

Ultimately, the 2020 Amendment impinges on prisoners’ rights beyond what is reasonable to maintain the “safe management” of prisons.

Read our full report here