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Report to NLAF

Sub-group 1: Information, education and training

Corrective Services NSW are implementing a closed network of computers for inmates, primarily for use in education programs. The project has involved old computers being sourced within DCS and from other agencies and recycled for inmate use. The recycling work is carried out by offenders employed through Corrective Services Industries. Corrective Services NSW, Legal Aid NSW and NLAF more broadly saw the opportunity, to develop a legal information portal for inmates that could be placed on this network.

The legal information portal will not only provide a wide range of legal information sources relevant to the needs of prisoners, but will provide a tool which may be used in education classes to teach inmates to navigate and use the internet.

A subgroup of the NLAF Prisoners Working Group have designed a structure for the portal and gathered relevant legal material for inclusion on the site. This material includes a stand alone version of the Legal Aid NSW website (the network can have no external links), a number of chapters from the Law Handbook, LIAC Hot Topics and plain language fact sheets on issues including fines, housing, visas and deportation and victims compensation restitution. It also has links to a glossary of legal words, legislation, sentencing tables and information about how to get legal help in prison.

The material is organised into topics relevant to inmates, including: police and courts; family law; money matters and visas and deportation. A small number of inmates have had input into the content and ‘look’ of the portal through focus groups.

The legal information portal caters for inmates with varying degrees of literacy. While some of the material is more complex, there are many within the large inmate population in NSW who are looking for this level of information.

The Launch of the Prisoners Legal Information Portal will take place on July 23 2010.

Sub-group 3: Legal Needs of Prisoners

The group is examining family and civil law needs of prisoners. The group has undertaken a mapping exercise of where correctional centres and public legal assistance providers are located, who is providing civil law outreach services to the various correctional centres, how frequently and in what form.

A mapping document has been produced that locates all CLCs, ALS, Legal Aid offices and correctional centres throughout the state. It also includes information about civil law outreach services provided at the various correctional centres throughout the state.

Members of the group presented the map and facilitated a discussion at a service planning forum that was part of one day seminar about prisoners and civil law issues organized by Legal Aid NSW. The training day was aimed at lawyers interested in undertaking legal outreach at prisons.

Following on from the discussion that took place during the service planning forum:

  • the mapping document was updated; and
  • a tip sheet of “what works” when undertaking civil law outreach to prisoners was also produced. The tip sheet summarises the discussion that took place on the day.

NLAF Project Manager presented the results of the mapping exercise and the ‘tip sheet’ at a workshop for RRR Community Legal Centres at the CLCNSW State Conference on 4 May 2010. The session was titled “Engaging with your local gaols” and included a panel discussion about how different services around NSW have approached working with prisoners.

Richard Funston
Executive Director
Planning Policy and Grants
Legal Aid NSW
Chair, Prisoners Working Group