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Reform Our Prisons Now

Email the Minister for Corrections Now!

    Reform Our Prisons Now

    Prisons in NSW are among the worst in the world. They are places of punishment and pain. They do not reduce crime or keep communities safe. They are expensive. They are not working.  

    Decades of evidence points to the complete and utter broken state of Australia's punitive law-and-order regime. Currently, New South Wales puts more adults behind bars than anywhere else in the country, and has the second highest rate of youth imprisonment. First Nations people are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-First Nations people. Right now over half of the young people behind bars are First Nations children and young people. Aboriginal deaths in custody are not going down. It has been 33 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and yet shockingly 22.4% of all deaths in custody are First Nations people. Nearly half of all prisoners end up back behind bars within two years of their release. The system is driving a revolving door of crime and custody and it’s costing the state an unbelievable $2 billion per year. 

    We know that to break this cycle we need early intervention and diversionary sentencing programs, systems of community controlled care and genuine funding for rehabilitation and work release programs. 

    People are behind bars for complex reasons. Amongst the prison population are high rates of people with mental illness, disability, addiction and people who have experienced sexual assault and violence. They are more often than not broken people in need of help. Prison could and should be a place of healing, education and rehabilitation. But people behind bars are suffering in harmful and miserable conditions and more often than not come out worse than when they went in.

    The state has the power to take a person’s liberty but not their dignity. 

    Currently, conditions in these places are the stuff of nightmares. 

    I have witnessed men lying on a concrete floor in a 3 X 3 metre concrete box, with no blanket, no pillow, no daylight, crippled with pain screaming for help, for someone to talk to. But the only contact is a prison officer behind a wall 20 metres away sitting in front of screens looking into these concrete boxes through surveillance cameras - to make sure they don’t self harm.  

    Prisoners entrusted to the care of the state are routinely abused, tormented, humiliated and mistreated. They are exploited and made to work for as little as 65 cents an hour. Then they are charged high prices for basic necessities, the price of a phone call to a loved one can cost over 10% of an inmate’s weekly income. Poverty and the exploitative labour system in prison is a major cause of inmate conflict.  

    Inmates are denied proper medical care, access to educational programs, nutritious food and are locked in their cells for days on end with no access to sunlight or fresh air. 

    At the end of their sentence, prisoners are spat out into society with no regard for their rehabilitation and reintegration. Some literally walk out of prison with not a cent to their name, nowhere to go and into homelessness. This is why recidivism rates are so high, communities are placed at risk and the cycles of abuse and disadvantage continue and compound. 


    Instead of being places of care and recovery, prisoners are having their human rights violated.

    The denial of basic human rights and dignity go to the very core of the current institution of detention in NSW and further entrench cycles of violence and abuse. The intensity of this failure is breaking people and their families, and it is harmful to our communities. 

    We know what we need to do to turn this all around and make our prisons work for all of us.  

    Prison must be the absolute last possible option for offenders and when required must be an option of genuine rehabilitation. With political will we can achieve true rehabilitative justice, at no extra cost to the state. Our prisons can and should provide humane living conditions.

    We’re calling for:

    Free and unrestricted communication with the outside world.

    Studies show interactions with loved ones drastically reduce the likelihood of re-offending once released. By ensuring prisoners have access to free telephone calls and email services we can reduce rates of isolation and loneliness and give prisoners the best chance possible at getting their lives back on track. 

    An end to the exploitative labour regime.

    There has been no increase in prison wages for the past 10 years, while the cost of living in prison has gone up by almost 300%. Prisoners are not considered workers or employees and have no rights to unionise. This exploitative system must be urgently reformed in order to end cycles of poverty, abuse and coercion inside the prison system itself. 

    Open access to education and rehabilitative programs.

    Everyone deserves the opportunity to better themselves. Currently, prisoners in NSW have access to a piecemeal selection of short courses, many of which are dysfunctional or administered by prison guards rather than accredited educators. The lack of educational opportunities inside our prisons is an abject waste of human potential. By providing secure laptops to inmates wishing to undertake further education, prisoners are empowered to spend their time behind bars on a path to genuinely reform their lives.

    Fresh, healthy and nutritious food.

    The state of food in prison is an utter disgrace. Rations are getting smaller, the milk is sour, the meat is reconstituted and microwaved, and there is not a fresh vegetable in sight. Prisoners only have the option to buy junk food - chips, lollies, and soft drinks - to supplement their daily rations. The quality of the food is literally killing people in our prisons. Inmates, locked in their cells and fed carbohydrates and sugar develop life threatening conditions - diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. Our society knows that fresh, healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food is the cornerstone to good physical and mental health. Any rehabilitative program must include a holistic diet so that people may heal from the inside out.