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Report to NLAF - May 2009

The first meeting of the working group was on 6 February 2009 and the second meeting is scheduled for 5 June 2009. At the 6 February meeting, it was decided to establish 3 sub-groups, namely:

  1. Information, education and training (chair Suzie Forell)
  2. Communication between inmates and lawyers (chair: Richard Funston)
  3. Co-ordination and facilitation of civil and family law needs (chair: Robin Banks)

Each sub-group has met on 2 occasions since February. The progress made to date is summarised below

Information, education and training

  • Library resources: The Group has identified a range of issues concerning library resources including: No LIAC resources in libraries or the holding of LIAC resources in non-accessible areas; lack of legal aid brochures; confusion as to which resources could be taken and which were on loan; staffing shortages for libraries; limited access time for inmates to libraries. The Manager of Library Resources from DCS has been invited to join the sub-group to discuss whether these issues can be resolved. LJF has also circulated a draft list of resources available for prisoners. This is being updated with the assistance of working group members.
  • Information dissemination issues: The Group has identified that inmates are being overloaded with information on reception, but may not be able to adsorb information at this time. The screening of legal information on prison wide systems, including Jailbreak Radio, is being discussed.
  • Referrals: The need to better market LawAccess in prisons (including to correctional staff), including through more durable materials (eg laminated posters/brochures) was identified. Posters, including those targeting Aboriginal inmates are being adapted for the prison environment, and will be distributed to all Correctional Centres . Options for training DCS staff on referral pathways are being investigated.
  • CLE: Access for non-legal partner agencies (eg financial advisors, tenants advocated) was identified as a major issue. Issue to be referred to sub-group 3.
  • Standalone computers for prisoners: The Group was briefed by DCS on stand alone computers in correctional centres (1: 10-20 inmates) as well as the network system which being trialled and which will be rolled out to all correctional centre in 12-18 months. DCS are happy to include legal information for prisoners on the stand alone computers, and the network when it is operating. The Group is identifying appropriate legal resources to be placed on the network system. Work is in progress to place the Redfern Legal Centre Handbook (e-handbook) and a version of the Legal Aid website on standalone computers. This information shall be ready for piloting by the end of 2009.
  • Legal Issues: The group has collated statistics as to the areas of legal need identified by callers so as to be able to match information resources with these needs. This is being matched with information gathered from Legal Aid in the roll out of Back on Track.

Lawyer/Inmate Communication

  • Calls from inmates: The Group is compiling information on the volume of calls received from inmates as well as the locations from which they are being made. Discussions are underway with DCS to see if the time for legal calls can be extended. LawAccess may be able to prioritise calls from prisoners.
  • Information for lawyers: DCS is working on a Legal Practitioner Webpage to provide information to lawyers including on lockdowns, visiting times, offenders housing locations and phone numbers. Information to be disseminated through NLAF.
  • DCS (Peter Sharp, Manager Video Conferencing) has briefed the group on a range of issues including (i) the location, availability and fit out of legal visiting suites and (ii) proposed DCS initiatives to increase legal access. These include: a pilot for use of webcam for lawyer/inmate communication; a soon to commence pilot for legal practitioners to book calls with offenders using an automated on-line booking system; use of the common auto-dial system to better identify legal requirements prior to legal visits; resource centres with legal materials; and extended visiting times for lawyers.
  • At its next meeting, the Group will visit a correctional centre to view to AV facilities.

Civil and Family Law Needs

  • Existing services: Much of the Group’s work to date has focussed on a mapping exercise looking at the locations of CLCs/ Legal Aid Offices/ Universities in relation to correctional centres; identifying the services that are already being provided to prisons; and referral pathways. A survey has been prepared (which also incorporates issues relevant to other sub-groups).
  • Barriers: The barriers facing existing service providers have been discussed including resourcing issues and lack of information about pro bono referral schemes.
  • Special needs prisoners: Research has been undertaken to identify the numbers of special need prisoners.
  • CLE models: Issues identified include access to prisons; access to legal assistance services for offenders in the community; use of AVL facilities for advice. A literature review of overseas initiatives for providing civil law advice to prisoners has been undertaken.

Richard Funston
Chair NLAF working group - Legal Needs of Prisoners
18 May 2009