Friday, April 22, 2005

Computers - prisoners' petition

NSW: Justice Action has just received a petition signed by nearly 100 prisoners of Goulburn jail. (petition at the end)

They are protesting a policy change introduced statewide by the Commissioner 2 weeks ago.

The new policy states that educational staff must supervise prisoners at all times when they are using the computers in the education classrooms. The petition states that this policy, in practice, means that access to computers will be dramatically reduced because of education staff shortages.

The prisoners say that the new policy is hindering their efforts at rehabilitation and defending their legal cases because much of the material used in these activities is now delivered on CD ROM. They say the policy is disempowering, and education is becoming a lost cause and unachievable.

We have been told that this policy is a direct result of the Middleton case, which successfully challenged the Commissioner's refusal to acknowledge his discretion to give maximum security prisoners access to computers in their cells.

Supreme Court Judge Dowd decided that the Commissioner did have the discretion and must consider it for prisoners of all classifications. The prisoners have asked us to advocate on their behalf. We need your help with gathering information to assist the challenge. Specifically, we need information on the following points:

1) What are the rules in other states? In the Middleton case he was doing two degrees at Uni of Southern Queensland in Information Technology and Engineering. He had a computer in his cell all the time without a problem until he was transferred to NSW.

2) How many years have computers been permitted inside prisons in NSW? Desktop computers in the wings/pods like Lithgow? Laptops in cells in minimum security?

3) What incidents can the Department use to justify this policy? Experiences in other states? For example, in the Middleton case, the Department said that they were a security risk because, "a computer might be used to track movements of warders and of the rosters of warders from a database on that computer."

However Justice Dowd noted that this could be done just as easily with a pen and paper, and that computers can be regularly searched for material other than approved activities.

Please let us know if you are interested in helping with this effort.

Justice Action 65 Bellevue St, Glebe, NSW 2037, Australia P.O. Box 386, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia voice: 612-9660 9111 fax: 612-9660 9100

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Justice Action
P.O. Box, 386

Prisoners of Goulburn Gaol
P.O. Box, 264 GOULBURN, 2580


Dear Friends,

We the undersigned would like to protest a recent policy change introduced by the Commissioner of the Corrective Services Department.

The latest obstruction to the prisoner education program is the new policy that the educational use of computers must at all times be supervised by educational staff.

The policy, at least at Goulburn is unworkable due to the structure of the routine which only allows access to education to a minimum number of full time students for about 2.5 to 4 hours per day for a maximum 4 days per week.

Most of the full time students find this situation barely workable as it is. The changes in the policy now mean that teachers will not be able to supervise the students during the periods mentioned above because they have other duties to attend. This includes the needs of various yards of protection, mainstream, and races that are segregated from one another. The role of the education staff servicing the needs of all the different sections simply means that prisoners' access to the educational classrooms and computer facilities will be dramatically reduced.

Those students studying TAFE are expressing concerns. Those students studying University courses are in greater need for access to computers because most university lectures these days are on CD ROMs likewise unrepresented prisoners' (usually those refused Legal Aid) with outstanding court cases need access to computers especially those in the Supreme and High Courts where judges and Justices often refuse to accept hand written submissions.

There is also a further policy clash in that prisoners these days are supplied briefs of evidence on CD ROMs instead of the (expensive to produce) documented ones. Prisoners need reductions in the present obstacles to access educational services. The latest policy does the complete opposite by reducing access to computers and a follow on effect in not being able to access classrooms. The new policy is disempowering to prisoners who are already feeling that education and rehabilitation are a lost cause or otherwise an unachievable goal to reach.

We the undersigned students at Goulburn Gaol would appreciate it if your office could advocate on our behalf with the view that Goulburn Gaol is not the only gaol affected by the new policy. Otherwise education for prisoners will be to difficult to access and discourage inmate participation to those already experiencing obstructions to services and extreme lack of motivation.

Society would prefer that its prisoners' be released with some kind of hope and skills instead of disempowered, unskilled persons with little option, other than to re offend or otherwise be unemployable.

The under Signed (nearly a hundred signatures)

We the undersigned prisoners need to access education for use of computers to complete assignments (for part time study) or to access computers for legal purposes.

Ed: It sounds like in spite of the Middleton case the Commissioner of Corrective Services has acted with malice towards the prisoners and in direct contravention of his honour's decision about education and rehabilitation in prison, to ensure that no matter what these prisoners will not get any help, even if they want to help themselves.

I thought God always helps those that are prepared to help themselves? How could I get it so wrong? I must ask my school teacher.

Is this really how Corrective Services works? No wonder they get it so wrong and people who have no hope re-offend! At the moment 64 per cent return to prison in NSW.


Justice Dowd discussed the role of education in rehabilitation and stated that "it is hard to imagine a better rehabilitation tool than the gaining of tertiary qualifications of a sophisticated nature".

By Justice Action 22 April 05


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