NSW prisoners may soon be allowed computers, folllowing a successful scheme in the ACT. Graphic: Alec Smart

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BY JADE MORELLINI

According to research and experience, access to computers in prison has proven to be extremely beneficial for prisoners, better equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to assimilate back into society. Prisons such as Long Bay Correctional Centre in Matraville could see computers provided to inmates to facilitate their return to society.

Computers can provide access to counselling, education and legal services, which supports rehabilitation while in prison. This will deliver prisoners with assistance to cope with the changing social world, reducing recidivism.
Justice Action and Community Justice Coalition (CJC) have been working together to convince the NSW Government to follow the ACT’s footsteps and implement computers in cells. Their research indicates computers offer a substantial positive impact for prisoners in the long run.

“Providing people in prison with computers in their cells would radically improve the outcome for prisoners,” Community Justice Coalition President, the Hon. John Dowd said. “It would enable delivery of domestic violence and de-radicalisation counselling, education and legal aid services safely and efficiently.
“The ACT government has safely had computers in cells for the last nine years,” he continued.
The results from ACT prisons are remarkable, with only 39% of criminals returning to prison within two years of leaving, compared to 50.7% in NSW.

Brett Collins, Coordinator for Justice Action and spokesperson for the Prisoners’ Action Group, said, “It is an amazing difference; we’re talking about a number of victims who are fewer and the other remarkable thing is education in ACT is more than double the national. 76.6% are involved in education in the ACT as opposed to the national rate, which is only 31.6%.

“The isolation of a prison is disabling, the time they have when they’re in isolation for 18 hours a day can be made useful through the use of modern technology,” Collins said. “The situation has now occurred where technology is safe and available in the general community and is seen as almost a human right, so to not take advantage of technology to gain positive enforce would be an outrage. This is using the opportunity to break down the isolation of imprisonment and ensure that prisoners are no longer isolated unnecessarily.”

Computers in cells is an efficient way of using resources to ensure that the community is safer, allowing prisoners to stay in touch with their families and have access to services. This will enable them to learn and prepare for when they re-enter society.
“Their family may no longer be there for them,” said Collins, “and 93% of people who come out of jail are men and they come out to a very different social environment, so they have to deal with families in a weak position. Many times they may not have a home and they come out without a job.

“What you have is people who are unprepared and don’t have the skills to deal with these problems and that’s when domestic violence often happens; the only thing they know is violence because they’ve had to deal with a violent environment in jail.”

In order for these services to be available in prisons, “the NSW government needs to allocate funds from the $3.8 billion prison-building program to these essential services,” Mr. Dowd said. “Costs are estimated at approximately $230,000 to install the computer server infrastructure and $120,000 per year thereafter for a 600-cell prison.”

ICJ Commissioner and former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Hon. Elizabeth Evatt, commented, “The financial cost of these services is minimal, considering the significant impact online counselling could have in reducing domestic violence recidivism by up to 30%.”

“It’s such a positive development to use technology to ensure there is less crime in the community,” Collins said. “To give prisoners assistance and counselling to make sure they have the skills to interact with their families and learn new ways of behaving – to not do that would be an outrage. This is an urgent matter that has to be dealt with now, we have been pushing strongly and we think now it’s starting to be heard.”