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Final Report to NLAF

  1. Background and context

    In July 2008, the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW published a research report about the legal needs of prisoners in NSW titled, Taking Justice into Custody: Legal needs of Prisoners.

    The research report highlighted the range of legal problems prisoners have, beyond their criminal law issues. The report described the myriad of civil and family law issues that people face as they move through the incarceration process. The report also demonstrated the real difficulties that inmates faced in addressing these issues and the scope to improve access to legal assistance in gaol.

    In October 2008, NLAF hosted a forum about the legal needs of prisoners. The purpose of the forum was to engage with key stakeholders involved in providing services to prisoners, particularly, Corrective Services NSW and to develop a number of viable and achievable strategies to address the findings in research report.

  2. Establishment of the NLAF prisoners working group

    In February 2009, NLAF established a prisoners working group. The prisoners working group was chaired by Richard Funston, Executive Director, Planning Policy and Grants Legal Aid NSW.

    The Terms of Reference of the working group were to:

    To prioritise and, as appropriate, progress the strategies proposed by the NLAF Forum on the Legal Needs of Prisoners and to address other prison related issues referred by NLAF. In doing so, the Group is to consider special need prisoners.

    In order to progress the Terms of Reference, the prisoners working group established three subcommittees to address issues associated with:

    • Legal Information, training and education
    • Lawyer / inmate communication
    • Access to family and civil law services for prisoners

    The following organisations were represented on the prisoners working group and its subcommittees:

    • Aboriginal Legal Service
    • NSW Bar Association
    • Community Legal Centres NSW
    • Corrective Services NSW
    • Legal Aid NSW
    • LawAccess
    • Law and Justice Foundation of NSW
    • Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
    • State Library, Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC)

    The Working Group was scheduled to operate for a period of 12 months. However, its operation was extended from February 2010 to August 2010. In August 2010, the Working Group recommended to NLAF that it continue to meet on an ongoing basis in order to, progress initiatives on foot and, amongst other things consolidate the working relationships between Corrective Services NSW and other NLAF members. The recommendations of the working group relating to its continued operation are set out below in section 5 of this report.

  3. Achievements of the prisoners working group

    The Prisoners working group has primarily worked to address the strategies proposed by the NLAF Forum on the Legal Needs of Prisoners referred to in section 3. In addition, the work of the prisoners working group has resulted in the following outcomes:

    • Most significantly, the development of a positive working relationship between NLAF members and Corrective Services NSW. Corrective Services NSW representatives have actively engaged with the prisoners working group and the issues arising during meetings of the group.
    • NLAF members are in continued discussion with Corrective Services NSW about a range of legal issues associated with prisoners’ incarceration and their access to legal services / legal related services. These include:
      – Transfer of the psychiatric reports of prisoners (used by judicial officers for the purposes of sentencing) from the Courts to relevant personnel within the correctional centres and Justice Health to address mental health concerns of the prisoner.
      – Authorisation process for NLAF to undertake legal and non legal (CLE) visits to correctional centres. Corrective Services NSW are in the process of finalising the authorisation process and the issue will remain a standing agenda item for future meetings.
      – Use of Auslan interpreters in video conferences for court appearances. Corrective Services NSW are currently undertaking pilot project relating to video conferencing. The working group is in discussion with Corrective Services NSW about the possibility of expanding the scope of video conferencing project to provide opportunities to use Auslan interpreters.
    • A number of key staff from Corrective Services NSW have addressed the prisoners working group about issues that are relevant to inmates including:
      – Inmate inquiries about the details of their sentence administration.
      – Interpreter Services and facilities for prisoners from CALD backgrounds.
      – Programs for Aboriginal Prisoners.
  4. Recommendations to NLAF

    The prisoners working group makes the following recommendations to NLAF:

    1. That NLAF accept / endorse the continued operation of the prisoners working group in the format of the NLAF Prisoners Forum.
    2. That NLAF accept / endorse the objectives, membership and operation of the Prisoners Forum in accordance with the terms of reference outlined below.
    3. The NLAF accept/ endorse the continued operation of the subcommittee of the prisoners working group addressing legal information, education and training needs of prisoners in the format of the Prisoners Legal Information Team.
    4. The NLAF accept/ endorse the objectives, membership and operation of the PLIT in accordance with its terms of reference outlined below.
  5. Proposed Terms of Reference of the NLAF Prisoners Forum

    The objective of the NLAF Prisoners Forum is to provide a platform for organisations in the justice sector to work together in a cooperative and collaborative manner to address access to justice and legal needs of prisoners in NSW. In particular in the areas of:

    • Legal education, information and training for staff and inmates of NSW correctional centres
    • Lawyer client communications
    • Civil and Family Law needs of prisoners.

    In addressing these issues the Forum will consider the needs of vulnerable population groups.

    The Forum is to meet four times in a calendar year (once every 3 months) and is convened by Richard Funston, Executive Director, Policy, Planning and Grants, Legal Aid NSW. The Forum will report to NLAF on its activities.

    The members of the Forum include representatives from the following organisations:

    • Aboriginal Legal Service
    • NSW Bar Association
    • Community Legal Centres NSW
    • Corrective Services NSW
    • Legal Aid NSW
    • LawAccess
    • Law and Justice Foundation of NSW
    • Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
    • State Library, Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC).

    The Prisoners Legal Information Team (PLIT) will operate as a subgroup of the Forum.

  6. Proposed Terms of Reference of the Prisoners Legal Information Team

    The NLAF Prisoners Legal Information Team (PLIT) is a subgroup of the NLAF Prisoners Forum.

    The main purpose for the establishment of the PLIT is to review and update the content of the Legal Information Portal.

    The Legal Information Portal is a legal information site for prisoners on the Corrective Services NSW inmate intranet. The Portal provides practical, plain language information to prisoners about relevant criminal, family and civil law issues and processes. It also informs inmates about how to contact a lawyer or get legal advice while in prison.

    The PLIT is comprised of representatives from the following organisations:

    • Corrective Services NSW
    • Law Access
    • Legal Aid NSW
    • Law and Justice Foundation
    • State Library (LIAC)
    • Aboriginal Legal Service.

    The NLAF Project Manager is also a member of the PLIT.

    PLIT may from time to time include representatives from other relevant organisations.

    The PLIT will meet each three months in order to:

    • review material on the Portal and determine whether to remove any of it; and
    • consider new material to be included on the Portal.

Richard Funston
Chair, Prisoners Working Group September 2010