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Report to NLAF - August 2009

The Working Group has made progress on a wide range of issues. This has been facilitated by the involvement of senior DCS staff in the Group as well as the contribution of NLAF members.

List of issues being addressed:

Sub-group 1: Information, education and training (Chair: Suzie Forell LJF)

The group is developing a legal information resource for use on the network of inmate computers being rolled out in NSW correctional centres over the next 12-18 months. It is currently seeking formal approval from DCS for this project.

The following content is being proposed:

  • Sections of Legal Aid NSW internet site, adapted to CD format, with quarterly updates. Legal Aid NSW brochures in community languages.
  • The Law Handbook (online version).
  • Fact sheets – eg on visa status issues from IARC website
  • LIAC “Hot Topics” series
  • Relevant legislation
  • Accessing legal material in prison libraries
  • Legal information in prison (Telephone advice services, legal visits, legal advice clinics)

As a complement to this project, DCS is arranging for NLAF to present to the DCS Senior Education Officers Conference on October 2009 to provide information on legal information resources and referrals. The Group is also looking at what legal materials are available in correctional centre libraries as well as access to those facilities.

Sub-group 2: Lawyer/Inmate Communication (Chair: Richard Funston, Legal Aid NSW)

The Group is working with DCS on the development, implementation and promotion to legal practitioners of the following DCS-led initiatives aimed at increasing legal access for inmates:

  • Webcam Pilot. This has been trialled since early 2008, with 17 solicitors now using the system.
  • Pilot for legal practitioners to book telephone/video-conferencing calls with offenders using an automated on-line booking.
  • Controlled phone system. It includes an interactive voice recording system whereby the offender presses a number on the system to identify the legal issues. An email will be generated once a week on the legal advice required. The legal provider could then book a call to these clients or arrange a legal visit.
  • Legal Practitioner Webpage. This site will provide information concerning: offenders housing location and phone numbers (number to call Mon-Fri 9-5); visiting times; contact numbers for DCS; lockdown information updated as often as possible; practical advice for visiting prisons; parts of operations procedure manual for legal visits; information sheet on legal issues (such as laptops).
  • Pilot of legal liaison officer position at Parklea Correctional Centre.

It is also looking at the barriers for inmates in accessing legal advice, including:

  • Timed phone calls
  • Connection times for calls to Legal Aid NSW switchboard/ Law Access
  • Numbers of phones at correctional centres and access thereto
  • Issues around access to correctional centres by service providers

DCS (Peter Sharp) arranged for the sub-group to visit Long Bay correctional centre in June to view the audio-visual facilities for legal visits and court appearances.

Sub-group 3: Civil and Family Law Needs (Chair: Robin Banks)

This group is working to identify unmet civil and family law needs of prisoners

It has prepared and distributed a survey for service providers to ascertain: existing services to meet civil and family law needs; how regularly the services are provided; as well as CLE/ Law Reform activities. The location of these services has been mapped. As a next step the Group will examine the different ways of responding to legal needs given the location of service providers.

Richard Funston
Chair
18 August 2009