Justice Action proposes and agitates for change in social justice policies across topics such as mental health, human rights, deaths in custody and prisoner education. To achieve change we focus, analyse and publish our views as the basis for action. Below are the current campaigns we are advocating for.
Just Us Publications
Just Us is a publication created by Justice Action that is distributed nationwide to 50,000 Australian citizens detained in prisons and hospitals. Our history is one of a successful struggle to retain political and community rights for the most excluded individuals in society, including a recent Supreme Court action in South Australia.
Denying education to prisoners is a breach of a basic human right, and it is happening in prisons across Australia and worldwide. Through the Prisoner Education campaign at Justice Action, we aim to advocate the importance of education and the implementation of education inside prisons. Education is widely associated with improvements to quality of life as people with higher education levels have greater employment opportunities. More significantly, a study conducted by RAND highlights that education is a significant factor in reducing recidivism rates by 43%.
At Justice Action, we correspond with Australian Universities as well as Education and Justice Ministers to raise awareness of the injustices faced by prisoners and advocate for the beneficial impact that education have on prisoners.
A recent breakthrough has allowed for education to be received in prison through the use of computer tablet technology. Dillwynia Correctional Centre and John Morony Correctional Centre have implemented computer tablets for each inmate, significantly impacting the educational opportunities incarcerated people can receive. Through the University of Southern Queensland, inmates are able to complete a Tertiary Preparation Program (TPP) on their computer tablets.
The Fight to Ban Strip Searched Under OPCAT
Justice Action are advocating for an effective implementation of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (OPCAT). Justice Action has been involved in the area since 2009, and is in regular contact with the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s OPCAT Advisory Group, as well as other relevant actors in the area. We have engaged these entities to ensure that the lived experiences of those in detention remain at the centre of this implementation process.
At present, we are compiling research on the strip searching of women and solitary confinement. For example, Pursuant to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (‘LEPRA’), police are entitled with the power to strip-search a person. Strip-searches are degrading, humiliating, violate the right of bodily integrity and contravene Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Searches of this kind are routinely conducted in prisons, music festivals and on the streets. Our investigations into this will allow us to provide a set of recommendations to better uphold Australia’s commitment to and obligations under the OPCAT.
Kerry O’Malley Case Leads to MHRT Contact
The case of Kerry O’Malley exposes the abuse of vulnerable people by the mental health system. The Mental Health Review Tribunal rejected her proposed alternative plan, which incorporated medical and social intervention strategies to enhance Kerry’s autonomy over her own life and mental health. Instead, they forcibly medicated her. The subsequent injection given to Ms O’Malley caused her to experience severe mental and physical side effects such as increased anxiety, poor concentration, weight gain, and loss of hair. Kerry O’Malley’s challenge against her forced medication was recently decided in her favour in the Supreme Court. Despite the victory for her personally, the Court was denied the opportunity to establish the limits of the power to forcibly medicate individuals.
Justice Action is now in contact with the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) to amend a number of issues we see as vital. These issues were brought to our attention during Kerry’s case. Firstly, MHRT’s website should be expanded upon to define: ‘least restrictive practice’ as outlined under the definition of a CTO; ‘mental illness’; and ‘serious harm’. Further, Justice Action advocates for the use of alternatives to CTO’s and for the MHRT to work in collaboration with people with mental illnesses and disorders. These recommendations are supported by a number of reputable domestic and international bodies. See Justice Action’s ‘Limits of the Power to Forcibly Medicate’ report for more, available here.
In response to the ACT government’s target to reduce recidivism by 25% by 2025, Justice Action undertook extensive research to produce ‘Recidivism: The Way Forward’. This report includes a critical analysis of the structural causes of recidivism and the effectiveness of current interventions to advocate for a shift from a punitive to rehabilitative system.
Covid-19 in prisons
Due to the environment of detention, prisoners are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and continue to be significantly impacted by measures such as lockdowns and quarantines. Justice Action has engaged closely with prisoners and their loved ones to monitor the changing conditions within prisons as a result of Covid-19 as well as hold authorities to account for breaching prisoner’s rights.
Letters are the primary means of communication between prisoners and their loved ones and play an incredibly important role in maintaining connections, particularly as in-person visits were restricted due to Covid-19. Justice Action has been engaging with the Minister on the issue of prisoner correspondence to uphold prisoners’ right to receive original letters and downloaded materials.
South Australia: computers in cells
Justice Action is developing a proposal for the implementation of computers in cells across South Australia with a focus on ensuring prisoners have access to external educational, rehabilitative and legal services.
National database into deaths in custody
Justice Action undertook a successful campaign calling for the creation of a national database into deaths in custody with the aim of preventing future deaths. AusTLii, the Australiasian Legal Information Institute, will now receive funding from the public sector bridges program for the National Free Access to Coronial Findings, Recommendations & Responses.
Australian Prisoners Union
Justice Action is in the process of gaining formal recognition of the Australian Prisoners Union (APU) under the Fair Work Commission to establish a social and political base for detainees. As a formal structure leading prisoner engagement, the APU could provide detainees with an active role in the monitoring of torture in detention to ensure Australia’s obligations under OPCAT are upheld.
Whilst Australia only committed to ratifying the United Nation’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2017, Justice Action has taken an active role representing detainees in OPCAT forums for over a decade. Justice Action is striving towards detainee engagement in the monitoring and prevention of torture within prisons and continues to engage with both the Advisory Group and National Preventative Mechanisms to raise key issues such as forced medication.
Right to vote
Justice Action has a history of advocating for people in prisons and locked forensic hospitals who have the right to vote yet are often excluded from democratic processes. This campaign continued through the recent 2022 Federal Election.
Asian Human Rights Council
Justice Action has been working with a network of organisations to form the Asian Human Rights Council and is currently acting as co-Chair.
Failures of Imprisonment: Latest News
Official Review of Prisoner Computer and Internet Access
Prison Population to Reach New Records Despite Slowing Growth
Prison Alternative Leads to Sharp Drop in Reoffending
NSW Exposed In Australian Government Report
Former Inspector Attacks Prison Building
Failures of Imprisonment
Justice Action has prepared a package of four research papers to change the culture of imprisonment. They represent a new paradigm of prisoner responsibility and empowerment dealing with the issues of recidivism and safe resettlement in the community. They propose that time in prison becomes a period of active development before release, and the rhetoric of corrective services becomes a reality rather than its accepted failure.
The draft papers follow international consultation with stakeholders and experts in the field. They have been personally distributed to almost all jurisdictions in the English-speaking world. We call on prison policy makers and administrators to respond to the ideas with the same constructive spirit that has been offered.
‘Chalk and Cheese’ compares the development of the prison system in Norway with the current system in this country. The Community Justice Coalition launched the book on the 24th of November 2017. It demonstrates how the Norwegian experience can be used as a model for the transformation of prison systems to deliver more positive results and a safer community.
The Norwegian prison system in the 1980s closely resembled that of Australia’s, narrowly focused on retributive justice. Following a number of incidents, Norway introduced significant reforms prioritising prisoner rehabilitation. These reforms have proved successful and have significantly reduced the recidivism rate to one of the lowest in the world at 20%. We believe Australia is capable of doing the same.
Media release: Prisoners Strike Consultation – International Prison Justice Day
August 10, 2011
“Justice Action announced today, August 10, International Prison Justice Day the launch of a consultation for a prisoners strike possibly extending to mental health patients, and others held in detention” said Justice Action Coordinator Brett Collins.
“Strikes by powerless people held in custody are the ultimate weapon available to them. They are a cry of desperation and have a long history of anguish and pain. Justice Action has been asked by detainees for many years to coordinate such an action in their fight to being recognised as people with human rights and dignity. Prisoners and their families are frustrated by the lies and contempt. The question is raised: ‘Have governments lost their moral authority to imprison their citizens?'” said Mr Collins.
The Construction of More Prisons in Australia
Many prisons in Australia were built by convict labour in the 1800s. During the 1990s various state governments in Australia engaged private sector correctional corporations to build and operate prisons whilst several older government run institutions were decommissioned. Operation of federal detention centres was also privatised at a time when a large influx of illegal immigrants began to arrive in Australia.
International Prisoners’ Justice Day August 10, marks the anniversary of the 1974 death of Eddie Nalon, a prisoner who bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison, Canada, when the emergency call button in his cell failed to work.
An inquest later found that the call button in that unit had been deactivated by the guards. The following year prisoners at Millhaven marked the anniversary of Eddie’s death by fasting and refusing to work. By May, 1976, the call buttons had not yet been repaired. Bobby Landers was the next to die in one of those cells. With no way to call for help, all he could do was scribble a note that described the symptoms of a heart attack.
What started as a one-time event behind the walls of Millhaven Prison has become an international day of solidarity.
Unfortunately, society in general and prison authorities, in particular, treat prisoners as outcastes
(The Dalai Lama, 1999)