Prisoners are permitted at least one visit per week. Prison authorities encourage family visits to help prisoners maintain connections and rehabilitate. Limiting or cancelling visits cannot, in theory, be used as a method to punish prisoners. Visiting arrangements take into consideration different family structures, particularly Indigenous or other cultural backgrounds. Play facilities are provided for visiting children.
In the Australian Capital Territory, conjugal visits are available for prisoners and their loved ones.
In Western Australia, a policy is currently being trialled at Bunbury Prison, restricting contact visits for prisoners testing positive to drugs. The aim of the trial is for prisoners to confess to families their drug use as the reason for ‘not being allowed to touch’ them. The administration also believes that removing contact between visitors and families limits the risk of drugs being smuggled into the prison. Critics of the trial say that it ignores the underlying issues that lead to prisoner drug use.
A prisoner classification at Goulburn’s SuperMax limits some prisoners to no-contact visits. Visits are held in a small, unventilated steel room, which causes discomfort for all parties. It is not clear what security threats have justified this change.
Correspondence and phone calls
Prisoners can make phone calls using phone cards to approved phone numbers. Free phone calls are limited and further calls require payment.
Prisoners may also correspond with others through letters, prison visits and emails, via iExpress.
iExpress is an online communication tool for prisoners, it gives prisoners an online profile and email service and is monitored by Justice Action.
Sentence adjustment policies
Courts may reopen proceedings on their own initiative or as the result of an application by another part. This may result in the amendment of any relevant conviction.
There is no opportunity for prisoners to ‘earn their release’. Prisoners have no opportunity to reduce their sentence, regardless of good behaviour.
Access to legal rights
While there are opportunities for prisoners to obtain legal information and receive legal advice and representation, this can be difficult in practice.
Prisoners can access prison libraries, prison staff and receive visits from legal advice services. They are also able to phone legal assistance. However, the prison environment and culture as well as the personal capacity of some prisoners means that in many cases the opportunity to pursue this assistance is not taken.
Prisoners or offenders in the community can make complaints to the state Ombudsman via letter or phone. Complaints may include mistreatment, delays in receiving information or services, unreasonable decisions, etc. Prisoners can expect a reply letter from the Ombudsman following their complaint. The Ombudsman can only accept complaints that are focused on a procedural or structural issue and cannot reply to complaints made to review a discretionary decision.
National preventive mechanism (NPM)
Australia is signatory to the Optional Protocol Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), but has not ratified the agreement. Thus, a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) has not been implemented.
Official visitors and Ombudsman have access to inmates but are limited in their public statements. Official visitors aim to act as safeguards against ill treatment and care. Reports reveal serious limitations in conducting independent reviews, with little to no follow up by authorities.
Each State employs an Inspector of Custodial Services to independently scrutinise conditions, treatment and outcomes for prisoners and mental health consumers. The Inspector has access to all correctional facilities public and private, court custody centres, police cells, etc.
The Inspectors no longer release reports following an investigation and recommendations do not need to be followed by the state’s corrective services (prison administration). In Western Australia, the Ombudsman does not have the power to overrule the discretion and decisions of the Government.