Saturday, 24th of February, 2018

Prison and Prisoners

Effect of Criminal Conviction

What Records are Kept?

The police department has an Information Bureau which records all court appearances, arrests and convictions for offenders 14 years and over, and for juvenile offenders under 14 years. These include traffic convictions.

Separate records are kept of juvenile offenders by the Information Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services.

How Long are the Records Kept?

The information on a person's criminal history remains permanently on record. However, if a charge is dismissed, this charge will not appear on the criminal record, although it does appear on the record of convictions provided to a Court when a person appaears before it, and fingerprints will be destroyed automatically if there are no other criminal convictions.

Disclosure of Criminal Records

The Commissioner of Police is only permitted to release information of a person's criminal record on the request of a police officer or to a person or their lawyer in very limited situations, at the discretion of the Police Commissioner, to authorised public bodies (Education Department, Justice Department).

Upon such a request in writing, the Information Bureau normally releases a summary of the criminal record. Employers and volunteer organisations are increasingly requesting a copy of the criminal record of candidates. The organisation usually provides a request form for the candidate in order to request a copy of their record.

Disabilities Resulting from Conviction

In addition to whatever sentence is imposed for an offence, the offender will generally suffer further disabilities as a result of the conviction. The relevance of a conviction may reduce as time passes and the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) (s16(q)) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of irrelevant criminal convictions. The following are disabilities of certain convictions:

  • Voting. Whilst serving a sentence of imprisonment for one year or longer, a person loses their voting rights.
  • Offences committed by migrants. An immigrant who has been sentenced to more than 1 year's imprisonment and who has been in Australia for less than 10 years may be deported.

Employment in the Public Sector

A criminal conviction may affect a person's ability to obtain or retain employment in the public service.

Licensing/Registration

Many professions require that a person be licensed (e.g. auctioneers, travel agents, builders, motor dealers) or registered (e.g. medical practitioners, nurses, dentists, opticians). The person to be licensed must generally be either ‘of good fame or character’ or ‘a fit and proper person to hold a licence’, depending on the wording of the relevant Act. The appropriate registration board may refuse to register a person who has been convicted of a crime or a misdemeanour. It may revoke the registration of a person who has been convicted of such an offence or who is not ‘of good character’.

Restitution of Property

A convicted person can be ordered under the Justices Act 1959 (Tas) or Criminal Code or Sentencing Act 1997 (Tas) to:

  • make restitution of property;
  • pay costs;
  • pay an award of damages arising out of the commission of the crime.

Other Disabilities

Having a criminal conviction may affect a person's chances of obtaining insurance on property.

Prisoners and People in Custody

Classification of Prisoners

The Director of Corrective Services to establish a Classification Committee for the purpose of classifying prisoners. Prisoners are classified according to their age, character, offence, previous history and sentence.

The major principle when classifying inmates is that they be placed on the lowest level of security for which they qualify, taking into account the needs of the individual inmate while at the same time ensuring their safe custody. Most inmates are initially classified as maximum security on entry into custody. Some, such as fine defaulters, who are obviously not a security risk can be classified medium or minimum. Inmates are reclassified as soon as practicable after being sentenced when they may be reduced to a lower level of security or remain at maximum. They are reconsidered at intervals of approximately 6 months or earlier on application.

Classification Committee (‘Classo’)

The Classification Committee will decide on the prisoners classification. There are three levels of security. The following are the minimum standards of management which apply to each level. In many circumstances the degree of supervision and control will be higher than that set out below.

Maximum

Inmates in this category are subject to high levels of supervision in an environment which provides for direct and coercive intervention, if required, to maintain safety, security and good order. They are detained within substantial barriers except when under escort by two officers.

Medium

Inmates in this category are locked in cells at night. During the day when on prison property, they must be sighted by an officer at intervals not exceeding 30 minutes. When off the property they must be under ‘line of sight’ supervision.

Minimum

Inmates in this category are locked in cells at night. During the day they are required to be subject to occasional supervision and are required to work in specific locations. They are required to report to a designated place at designated times.

Categories of People in Custody

Detainees

A detainee is a person detained in lawful custody other than under a sentence of imprisonment, irrespective of the cause of imprisonment. Detainees come within a range of categories.

Persons Arrested

Once arrested, a person can be held in custody. In Tasmania, police officers usually have the right to grant bail to a person without having to bring such person before a justice of the peace or a magistrate. In relatively minor cases, this is usually done. However, in more serious cases, and where there has been an arrest, or an arrest on warrant, the police will not themselves grant bail. In such cases they are required to bring the person before a Magistrates Court "as soon as practicable” (s4Criminal Law (Detention and Interrogation) Act 1995 (Tas)).

During this period, before either police bail, or the court appearance, a person is held in custody (usually at the police station cells) as a detainee. Provision is made for a Magistrates Court to be held on a weekend in the major centres, to deal with detainees, though the court can sit at any time if need be.

Persons Remanded in Custody Pending Trial

Persons are quite often refused bail during the period awaiting trial. Persons on very serious offences such as murder fall into this category. Others may be refused bail because they have failed to turn up at court to answer their bail on a previous occasion, breached their bail conditions or are believed to be likely to re-offend while on bail. Such persons are required to appear before the court at least once every 28 days (ss58(2) & 74B(2)Justices Act 1959 (Tas)).

Persons Remanded Pending Sentence

In many instances, once a person has been convicted, the court may remand a person in custody whilst the question of penalty is considered, and where necessary, probation or psychiatric reports are obtained. The period is usually for several weeks. During that period, a person is held on remand as a detainee.

Persons Subject to Extradition or Deportation

Persons can be detained while awaiting proceedings for their extradition to another state or a foreign country to answer to charges there, or for their deportation if they are illegally in Australia.

Mentally Ill Prisoners

Persons found unfit (by reason of a mental condition) to plead, or who have been found not guilty by reason of a mental disorder, are detained (within Wilfred Lopes Centre) pending a decision of the Attorney-General as to any transfer to another institution, or to continued detention within the prison complex. The Wilfred Lopes Centre and the Women's Prison are Special Institutions under the Mental Health Act 1996 (Tas).

Children

Under the Youth Justice Act 1997 (Tas) persons under the age of 18 can be detained in prison, but usually are remanded into the care of the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and kept at ‘Ashley’, an institution operated by the Department near Deloraine. A person under 18 can only be detained in an adult prison with a special court order on the grounds of exceptional security requirements.

Provision is made under the Corrections Act 1997 (Tas) (s25) to allow a prisoner’s child to live with the prisoner in prison provided it is in the best interest of the child and it does not pose a risk to the child or security of the prison. This rarely occurs in practice.

General

Male detainees are kept in the Hobart Remand Centre, which is a separate complex next to the Magistrates Court in Liverpool Street Hobart, unless the detainee requests to be transferred to Risdon. There are no separate facilities for detainees within the Women’s Prison because of the small number involved.

A detainee is not required to wear prison clothing unless they desire to do so. A detainee is not required to work but may request to be so permitted. In such a case the person shall wear prison clothing (s29(d)) which is suitable for the climate and work undertaken. They are then entitled to receive earnings for work and to participate in prison programs. A detainee may be allowed to spend money belonging to them for purposes approved by the prison.

Prisoners

A prisoner is a person detained in lawful custody under a sentence of imprisonment. In Tasmania, most persons under detention are prisoners.

Prison and Mental Disorders

Where a jury has found a person to be incapable of standing trial, or has acquitted a person on the ground of insanity, the trial judge shall order that the person is liable to supervision under Part 4 of the Criminal Justice (Mental Impairment) Act 1999 (Tas) (s21). The person then becomes subject to the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1996 (Tas)  and a review of any period of detention is the responsibility of the Forensic Mental Health Review Tribunal.

In most cases, males are detained in the prison hospital in the Risdon maximum security facility, and women in the women’s prison. The release or transfer is the responsibility of the ‘controlling authority’.

Women in Prison

The number of inmates within the women’s prison varies on average between five and 40. Because of the smaller number of persons involved, the procedures - although similar to the male prison - are more relaxed and greater scope is given to individuality, especially in the areas of dress, movement and contact visits. However the downside is that the women’s prison is only a fraction the size of the men’s prison and women are much more constricted in terms of exercise and work.

Going to Jail

Everyone entering jail as a new prisoner will still be in a psychological state of confusion and trauma resulting from the imposition of a sentence, or the refusal to grant bail. The prisoner steps out of the van, which is already inside the prison walls. The sound of a series of gates closing behind the van heralds the stark reality that freedom has been lost. Everyone entering prison should fully appreciate that the reason for their detainment is to punish. The comforts of freedom need to be abandoned. Inmates must prepare for a culture shock.

On reception at the prison a prison officer takes and records name, age, weight, height, a description of general appearance and distinguishing marks. In addition a photograph is taken. Details of the next of kin, together with a contact telephone number is obtained. The prisoner will be questioned on matters of health. If there are, or have been, suicidal tendencies, the person may spend time in the prison hospital under observation, before being allocated a cell in the main prison area. The reception also includes a medical assessment by a member of the Forensic Mental Health team. This includes taking a person’s medical history and requesting their medical records from that person’s GP or other doctors.

In the reception room the prisoner is stripped of all personal possessions including (unless they are a detainee) clothes. Most personal items would have been previously confiscated by officers of the court prior to the transfer to jail. A detailed inventory must be kept of all the prisoner's confiscated property (other than perishables) and returned to them on release. The prisoner is searched, can be required to bathe, and is subject to medical examination, usually the following day.

Prison clothing and items of bedding are issued, together with a ration of toiletries. Prior to a canteen being available, the inmate has to rely upon the handout of soap and razors to shower and shave and to wash certain items of clothing for perhaps a fortnight. The prisoner is then conducted to a cell.

Learning the Rules

Within the first 24 hours, a male prisoner learns:

  • to call security officers, chief Custodial officers and officers of higher rank "Mr". Custodial officers are generally referred to as "Boss";
  • to obey all orders;
  • not to enter another’s cell;
  • to rise immediately on the first bell, dress as required and to make up the bed in a set manner;
  • to shave daily, unless permission is gained for a beard;
  • to parade immediately upon demand and to remain silent during muster;
  • to march in line to and from meals?;
  • to shower in accordance with a set timetable;
  • to live life according to a rigid set of times and rules.

For many first-time prisoners, the worst time is at evening muster when they stand just inside the cell door, and wait as each door is firmly shut and then locked.

Psychology of the Procedure

Loss of identity is one of the psychological effects of the procedure. The change of identity is emphasised by the nature of the admission process, the loss of personal possessions, the clinical and indifferent manner of recording personal details, and the search. The process can destroy the individuality of the prisoner. The process is similar to that employed in ‘recruit training’ within military organisations. The desired end result is the same - a loss of identity, an acceptance of group identity and an amenability to discipline. This is intended to result in an orderly prison life. Unfortunately, prison does not offer the corresponding positive values of a military structure — self esteem, a sense of loyalty and pride in the purpose of the system.

Peer Pressure

The new prisoner becomes subjected to the dos and don’ts of the prison culture. The peer group influence tells the new inmate that they are a ‘crim’, and that the officers are ‘screws’. A prisoner tries to conform as once the label of ‘suspect’ is put on a prisoner by inmates they lose touch with the rest of the inmates.

Once a prisoner accepts the role of a ‘crim’, and is accepted by the other ‘crims’, the new inmate finds a new self-identity by seeing themselves as part of the prison community. Staff/inmate relationships are such that some rapport is possible between the two groups.

Some prisoners are not accepted into the prison culture, although non-acceptance is rare. In most cases, non-acceptance is connected with the type of crime committed by the prisoner, especially homosexuality and sexual offences involving children. Non-acceptance can also come about by breaking the code of the prison culture.

Given all of this, the pressures on a new inmate to conform with the code are enormous, because it is very hard to live in prison as an independent individual, not only because of the way the person is treated by the prison community (staff and inmates) but also because of the individual’s need for acceptance and identification.

Classification

All prisoners entering jail for the first time do so as maximum security inmates. Within a day or two a classification committee comprising jail personnel will assess their suitability for work. A person's status is open to review by the committee, which, if appropriate, can change a prisoner's rating from maximum to either medium or minimum.

Fellow Inmates

A new prisoner cannot expect much assistance from fellow inmates during their settling in period. The jail mentality (both inmates and authorities) is to learn and survive by oneself. A new inmate will have no friends. A feeling of loneliness is ever present. It is fair to say that there are few friends in jail, only acquaintances. Prisoners surround themselves with inmates of like understanding and interests and feel comfortable with this existence.  A new inmate is regarded as an outsider and needs to earn respect and approval to be accepted by a group. It is highly desirable to ‘do one's time’ with minimal agitation. In addition to obeying all rules and work orders this is best achieved by respecting the privacy of others, by not violating other inmate's possessions and by doing twice as much listening as talking.

Clothing

Part of the clothing which the prison provides consists of shirts and trousers which are laundered each day. The quality and appearance of the apparel is not high and prisoners may find it an embarrassment to wear.

Violence

The median age of prisoners is becoming younger, and fellow prisoners may be aggressive and anti-social. Violence is not a regular part of prison life but problems are occasionally settled by conflict. Such conflicts revolve around the younger community within the jail. The problem for a prisoner is how to respond to violence. Given that the ability to overcome violence by a greater use of violence is not present in most inmates, one option is to inform and bring the matter to the attention of the authorities. Given that this is against the prisoners' code, there are inherent risks associated with this solution. In most cases it is resolved by an acceptance of fate and the adoption thereafter of a low profile.

Of equal concern to the system is male sexuality. Because of the age grouping, sexual release through homosexual contact may occur. Despite all systems of surveillance in prisons consensual sexual activity may occur.

Family

The imprisonment of a person can result in serious repercussions for family members. Just as jail is traumatic for the prisoner, so it is that others similarly suffer. The sight of a person being led from the court handcuffed, destined for prison, and of the family unable to have any contact is emotionally overwhelming for both. The impact of being disassociated can lead to similar emotions that the prisoner experiences — anxiety, stress, loneliness etc.

Imprisonment can have a financially devastating effect on a family, particularly if the prisoner was the bread winner. Each party in its own way suffers helplessness. It becomes a horrifying event for family and friends to visit an inmate within the precinct of jail. The situation is further exasperated by the loss of physical contact.

Contact visits now occur every weekend and by request during the week. Visiting helps to adjust to the deprivation and assists in keeping the family unit together. Positive attitudes from both sides on visitations or through letter writing help alleviate foreboding associated with incarceration.

Prison

Prison Structure and Administration

There are a number of prison institutions in Tasmania.

  • Risdon Prison (maximum, medium and low security)
  • The Women’s Prison at Risdon
  • The Wilfred Lopes Centre and other forensic mental health facilities
  • Hobart Remand Centre (generally for short term remand and reception prisoners).
  • The Launceston Prison (for short term remand and reception prisoners)

The Burnie Remand Centre is proclaimed as a prison but is only used on a daily basis for people attending trials in Burnie. Prisoners and detainees attending trials in Devonport and Burnie are conveyed to Launceston for overnight detention.

Prisons in this state are administered under the Corrections Act 1997 (Tas) and the Corrections Regulations 2008 (Tas). The administration of the prison is the responsibility of the Director of Corrective Services who also has the title of General Manager, Corrective Services Division. The Director is appointed by the Governor under the provisions of the Corrections Act. The Director also has the power to make Standing Orders for the management and security of prisons and for the welfare, protection and discipline of prisoners. References to sections or regulations will normally be to the Corrections Act and Regulations.

The Director in fact can exercise all of the powers under the Corrections Act, but in practice the day-to-day management of the prison system rests with the General Manager, and of individual prisons with the Managers. The actual structure of the administration is hierarchical and in many ways is similar to a military or police institution. Police officers are also vested with all of the powers of a prison officer.

Range of Prison Institutions

For the purpose of segregation, Corrective Services operates the following institutions.

  • Risdon Maximum Security Prison for male inmates.
  • Women's Prison for maximum to minimum security inmates.
  • Wilfred Lopes Centre for maximum to minimum security inmates.
  • Risdon Medium Security Unit for medium security male inmates
  • Ron Barwick Prison for minimum security male inmates.

The maximum security prison is subdivided into a number of accommodation divisions and workshops which allows segregation of inmates for protection and other particular needs. Many medium and even minimum security prisoners may spend time in this prison.

Transfers between Institutions

It is the responsibility of the General Manager to allocate inmates to prisons after they have been classified. There are many reasons why transfer to a lower level of security may not occur immediately after classification.

It is sometimes necessary for inmates to be held in an institution of a higher security rating whilst waiting for a vacancy in a lower level or if particular programs in which they are enrolled are only available in that institution. Another example could be that an inmate may be completing medical treatment which is only available under close supervision of the Prison Hospital. Transfer will normally take place as soon as all the necessary conditions have been met.

Prison Facilities

Medical Treatment and Examination

The prison is obliged to supply, at public expense, such medical attendance and treatment as is necessary for the preservation of health. In practice, this means an attendance of a doctor at the prison hospital. A prisoner cannot obtain treatment by a doctor of their own choosing, or at their own expense.

The Corrections Act and Corrections Regulations allow a person nominated by the Director to "cause food to be fed to a prisoner or detainee" where a medical officer certifies in writing that the prisoners failure to eat is endangering the life and health of the prisoner (Reg 9).

Library

A prisoner or detainee is entitled to use the prison library at least once a week. It has not been determined by the Courts as to whether this is counted as a privilege which can be withdrawn although it is treated as such.

Recreational Activities

Prisoners are permitted, as a privilege, to keep a radio and/or television receiver within their cells. These privileges can be withdrawn. The male prison has a debating group, football and cricket teams who compete against outside organisations, together with a range of other sporting activities. Some sports equipment (for example, nets, volleyball, table tennis) is available.

A range of educational classes is also available (such as literacy classes, arts and craft, etc.). Prisoners can also sometimes study for secondary or tertiary qualifications by doing correspondence courses.

Employment

A prisoner must do work suitable to their physical and intellectual capacity (s33). Prisoners must be paid for work at a rate determined by the Director. At present prisoners are paid in accordance with a graded scale that begins at $5.00 per week and ends at $44.00 per week not cewrnot Nofor inmates employed in certain positions. There are numerous employments available.

Earnings from work can be:

  • allocated to dependants;
  • used for the purchase of necessities;
  • used for the purchase of clothing and other items immediately before release;
  • used to pay for educational expenses;
  • used to pay for special medical or dental treatment not payable from public moneys.

The Act says that money can also be used to satisfy ‘judgment debts’ (s34(3)).

A ‘detainee’ is not obliged to work but may be allowed to do so if they request it.

Work in the male prison is varied. There is a metal and woodwork shop (where some training is given), a paint shop, bakery, kitchen and laundry. There is provision for the employment of an industrial supervisor and trade instructors.

Interstate Transfer

The Prisoners (Interstate Transfer) Act 1982 (Tas) permits the transfer of prisoners to or from another State. A prisoner may be transferred on welfare grounds or legal grounds. There is no appeal against a refusal to transfer on welfare grounds. A decision is not reviewable by a court or tribunal. A request need not be considered if it is made within one year after a similar request was made by the prisoner. Parole and prison reports form a significant part of the formulation of the opinion.

A similar provision exists in relation to a prisoner who is the subject of an arrest warrant issued in another state. The procedure whereby prisoners, and other persons, are transferred in these circumstances is known as ‘extradition’.

Prison Discipline

A person in prison is subject to the same legal requirements as anyone else in Tasmania. A crime or offence committed inside a prison is a crime punishable under the same laws as apply outside. Of course it is not so easy for a prisoner to take action when they are the victim. In addition, however, prisoners and detainees are subject to special sets of rules.

The Director can reduce the sentence of a prisoner by one third so long as this does not reduce the sentence to less than three months. Remission is granted almost as a matter of course. Prisons throughout the world use the remission system as a method of maintaining order and discipline within their systems. Remissions are not the product of a concern for prisoners, but a carrot and stick method of control. Because of this, it is important to remember that what is regarded as cheekiness, high spirits, dumb insolence on the outside can have an effect on a prisoner’s release date.

A record is kept of ‘misconduct’ of each prisoner and detainee, and the contents of that record must be considered when computing the amount of remission to be granted to that person. However, as a matter of practice, a reduction of remission is reserved for only the most serious offences and is used sparingly.

There is a requirement that orders be obeyed promptly. In the event that a person believes that a particular order given by a prison officer is wrong or unfair, that person is required to obey the order, and only afterwards may complain to the Manager about that order.

Offences committed in prison

These are contained in Schedule 1 of the Corrections Act, and are made pursuant to section 58 of the Act. They are far reaching in extent. Some examples of offences include mutiny, being idle or negligent at work, cursing, feigning illness and maiming, injuring or tattooing oneself or another.

Standing Orders and Rules

The Director has the power to issue standing orders (s6(3)) and they can be varied whenever desired. It is an offence to contravene these orders.

Standing orders apply essentially to staff.

Standard Operating Procedures (formerly Prison Rules)

These procedures cover the general routine of prison life. They provide for duties on getting up in the morning, cleaning duties, prohibition about entry of cells, mustering, times of silence, obedience to orders and so on.

Searches

A prisoner or detainee must be searched on admission and immediately before discharge. They may be searched at any other time in any manner the officer in charge considers necessary. Cells are required to be searched before the person is accommodated in that cell, and at such other times, as the General Manager considers necessary. Any unauthorised article found during the search is confiscated.

Penalties for Prison Offences

The penalties that may be imposed on a prisoner or detainee are set out in section 61. They include:

  • Loss of privileges for not exceeding 90 days in the case of contact visits and 30 days in any other case.
  • A period of separation from other prisoners not exceeding 30 days. This will normally mean a stint in Division 8, Risdon’s punishment wing where conditions are particularly harsh.
  • Deduction from prison wages or allowances to pay for any damages to property loss, or all or part of remission.

Weapons

A Corrections officer may use firearms against a person escaping or attempting to escape. They are not permitted to do so unless they have reasonable grounds to believe that they could not otherwise prevent the escape.

Firearms may be used in cases involving a combined break out, or an attempt to break open a door or gate. They may also be used where violence is used against a person "if that person has reasonable grounds to believe that the other person is in danger of life or limb, or that grievous injury or harm is likely to be caused to him or her".

A warning to stop and that a firearm will be used, must be given before the weapon can be discharged.

Prisoners' Rights

A prison is a place of detention and it is understood by society that the rights of inmates should be limited. However, there is an acceptance that the detention should be conducted with a degree of humanity and fairness and section 29 of the Corrections Act 1997 (Tas) sets out an extensive list of rights that prisoners retain whilst in custody. Some of these are outlined below.

Complaints

A prisoner who wants to see the Manager, an official visitor or chaplain may apply to the officer in charge of the Division. If the need to speak to the Manager is urgent, the prisoner may ask the nearest Custodial officer.

Ombudsman

As well as investigating complaints against police, the Ombudsman also has a special role in investigating complaints by prisoners. For more details on the Ombudsman see the relevant section.

Legal Advice

There is no entitlement to legal representation when a prison charge is being dealt with by a disciplinary officer.

A legal practitioner may at all reasonable times interview a client in accordance with procedures determined by the Director (s16, Corrections Act 1997). In practice, lawyers are given access to persons in interview rooms situated in the main yard without the presence of a prison officer.
The Hobart Community Legal Service operates a regular Prisoners Advice Service which provides general legal advice and referral, with respect to general legal issues (i.e. not relating to the offence for which the prisoner is in jail). An officer from the prison programs unit will contact the Service or the prisoner's lawyer if requested by a prisoner.

There is also a newly established Prisoners Advisory Service, established by barristers from Michael Kirby Chambers in Hobart and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. This Service began operation in late 2012 and holds a monthly clinic for prisoners. It involves law students from the University of Tasmania working with lawyers to assist prisoners with parole applications.

There is no limit to the number of letters a prisoner or detainee may send to or receive from a lawyer.

Voting

Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth)  a person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or longer is not eligible to vote in Commonwealth elections (s93(8AA)). No prohibition exists for state elections.

Religion

On admission a person must be given the opportunity to state their religion or religious denomination. Such statement must be recorded. A person is entitled at all reasonable times to practice the rites of religion, and to receive religious guidance from a chaplain or responsible member of such religion or religious denomination (s29).

Correspondence

Letters and other forms of communication with the outside world are an important lifeline for the prisoner. A prisoner may write to friends and relatives uncensored, provided the letters are not of a threatening or harassing nature (s29). The prison may deduct money from the earnings of a person to cover the cost of postage of extra letters. Correspondence both in and out may be read by an authorised Corrections officer. Correspondence both in and out may be withheld (s29(2)).

Section 29 rights

Section 29 gives the following rights to prisoners and detainees:

  • the right to be in the open air for at least an hour each day (if facilities allow);
  • the right to be provided with food that is adequate to maintain health and well-being;
  • the right to special dietary food where such food is necessary for medical reasons or on account of the religious beliefs or because the prisoner or detainee is vegetarian;
  • the right to be provided with clothing that is suitable for the climate and for any work required;
  • the right of a detainee to wear their own clothes;
  • the right to have access to reasonable medical care;
  • the right for the intellectually disabled or mentally ill to have reasonable access to special care and treatment;
  • the right to have access to reasonable dental treatment;
  • the right to practise a religion of the prisoner's choice and, if consistent with prison security and good prison management, to join with other prisoners or detainees in practising that religion and to possess such articles as are necessary for the practice of that religion;
  • the right of a prisoner to receive at least one visit each week of at least 30 minutes duration and such other visits as the Director determines;
  • the right of a detainee to receive at least 3 visits each week and such other visits as the Director determines;
  • the right to send letters to, and receive letters from, the Minister, the Director, an official visitor, the Ombudsman or an officer of the Ombudsman without those letters being opened by prison staff;
  • the right to send and receive other letters uncensored by prison staff (with the exception of threatening or harassing letters);
  • the right to advise partner or next of kin of the person’s imprisonment;
  • the right to have access to legal advice or to apply for legal aid;
  • the right to be provided with information about the rules and conditions which will govern the prisoner's or detainee's behaviour in custody.

Leave Permits and Release

Length of Sentence

In Tasmania, the courts will normally determine a period of imprisonment, and leave the period of the actual term to either the Parole Board, or the remission system. Amendments have been made to enable a judge to fix a minimum sentence before the person becomes eligible for parole (s19Sentencing Act 1997 (Tas)).

If a sentence is more than three months, a prisoner automatically receives a third off the period of their sentence, or three months, whichever is greater. This means that someone who has a six-month sentence receives two months off their sentence, leaving them to serve four months – the greater of the two periods.

Remissions

A remission may be granted for a period of three months off the sentence imposed by the court. No remissions are available for sentences of three months or less. (Reg 23, Corrections Regulations) Thus a person sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months, for example, can expect to be released at the end of nine months.

Remissions are granted at the discretion of the Director "by reason of the prisoner's good conduct and industry". The impression is that remissions are a ‘privilege’ but the reality, at the time of writing, is that they are given as a matter of course and are not readily reduced. Once reduced they can be reinstated and often are.

A person convicted of escape or attempted escape is not entitled to remission in respect of any period of imprisonment to and including the day on which the escape or attempted escape was made. Even here, however, the Director has a discretion, in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, to grant a special remission.

Remissions are not available to life prisoners or prisoners declared to be dangerous criminals because they serve a sentence of indefinite length. The only way in which they can be released is by being granted parole.

Remissions cannot operate so as to reduce a non-parole period imposed by a court.

Leave Permit

The prison may grant a leave permit (for a period not exceeding 72 hours) to enable a prisoner or detainee to leave the prison for a number of reasons including:

  • a funeral;
  • in cases of illness of a relative or person the prisoner has had a long standing relationship with;
  • the arrangement of employment;
  • the attendance at an educational or training institution (s42, Corrections Act);
  • in the case of Aboriginal prisoners to attend events of cultural significance;
  • to take part in a program approved by the Director which is designed to facilitate the prisoners rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

The leave can be revoked by the Director (s43) and with Ministerial approval under some circumstances the leave permit may be extended for a limited period.

Visitors

Contact Visits

Contact visits are now permitted at Risdon as well as Hayes Prison Farm. Contact visits are permitted in the women’s section of the prison especially if young children are involved. Contact visits last for 45 minutes and take place in the presence of a Correction officer.

Box visits

Box visits are limited to 30 minutes. Inmates and visitors are separated by a glass screen for non-contact (box) visits.

Requirements for Visitors

A visitor may not take things away from the prison without authority. A visitor must give proof of their identity on request and if the visitor gives a false identity or refuses to give ID and disobeys an order to leave the prison they are guilty of a criminal offence (fine of up to $500) (s18, Corrections Act).
A visitor may be required to supply their name and address before entry to the prison. Visitors may be searched (s20) and if permission to search is refused the visitor may be ordered to leave the prison. The prison may refuse admission to an intending visitor whom it regards as undesirable.

Official Visitors

The Justice Minister may appoint persons who are obliged to visit the prison at least once a month. The visitor may report directly to the Minister on the state of the prison, the treatment and condition of prisoners and detainees. This is traditionally regarded as an important safeguard to abuses of power by the prison authorities and an independent monitor on the condition of the prisons. A person with a complaint should arrange to meet with the official visitor and to set out the basis of the complaint. Official visitors cannot interfere with the running of the prison, but they must be given the full co-operation and assistance of the prison authorities in carrying out their work. A judge or magistrate may visit a prison at any reasonable time.

Visits by Police

The police can enter the prison to interview detainees and prisoners in accordance with procedures set by the Director (s17). A prisoner or detainee may refuse a visit from a police officer and is not required to answer questions from a police officer. An interview between a police officer and a prisoner can be conducted in the sight but not the hearing of a Custodial officer, at the prisoner’s request.

If a police officer proposes to visit a prisoner, the Director must ensure that the prisoner is advised of their rights under section 17 (s17(5)).

Parole

The parole system and the Parole Board which administers it, operates under the Corrections Act. The Board is a statutory body appointed by the Governor consisting of a lawyer and two other persons qualified in matters of sociology, criminology, penology, medicine or any other relevant knowledge or experience. The Board is independent of the prison system.

What is Parole?

Parole is the conditional release of a prisoner before the completion of sentence. It is different from remission because the prisoner is still taken to be serving their sentence during the period of parole (s78). They are under the supervision of a parole officer.

Eligibility

A prisoner (other than a life prisoner or ‘dangerous criminal’) convicted for an offence after April 1987 cannot be released on parole until they have served one half, or at least 6 months, of their sentence unless in the opinion of the board there are exceptional circumstances (ss68 & 70). The Supreme Court can also set a non-parole period in excess of that period when sentencing the prisoner (s69). This power has not often been used by the court. There is a strong school of thought that the question of release should be left to the Parole Board or the prison authorities and attempts by the court to restrict their powers in advance only serve to undermine the effective administration of the prison system. The Sentencing Act states that the court has the power to not make an offender eligible for parole in respect of a sentence (s17(2)(a)). Further, if the court does not make an order in respect of parole, it is deemed that the offender is not eligible for parole in respect of that sentence (s17(3A)).

Where sentences are cumulative (that is, to be served one after the other) the non-parole periods are added together. Where they are concurrent (that is, to be served at the same time) the non-parole period is equivalent to the non-parole period of the longer (or longest) sentence.

A prisoner can apply for parole by completing an application form. This form can be obtained from a programs officer at the prison and must be forwarded to the Secretary of the Parole Board.

Life Prisoners and Dangerous Criminals

Life prisoners and dangerous criminals cannot apply for parole (s69). A dangerous criminal can apply once the declaration under section 19 of the Sentencing Act that they are a dangerous criminal is discharged.

The State Government made a policy statement in 1992 that a life prisoner would not be considered for parole until they had served at least 10 years of their sentence other than in exceptional circumstances.

In 1994 the State Government passed an amendment to the Criminal Code enabling life prisoners to apply to be re-sentenced with a fixed sentence. This was referred to as the ‘truth in sentencing’ legislation. Since that amendment many life prisoners have applied to the Supreme Court for re-sentencing. Dangerous criminals also have the right to apply for sentencing.

The new sentence takes effect from the time of the original sentence. When re-sentencing a life prisoner or dangerous criminal the court has the same powers and duties it would have had if the applicant had been convicted by that court of the crime for which the applicant was originally sentenced. This includes imposing a non-parole period.

How the Parole Board Makes Decisions

Once a prisoner becomes eligible for parole, or on application by the prisoner, the Board will seek reports from the prison authorities, possibly a medical (psychiatric) report and also a report by a parole officer. Section 72(4) of the Corrections Act 1997 (Tas) sets out the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to release a prisoner on parole.

After considering the case, the Board can grant or refuse parole or defer the decision (s72(3)). It can set conditions to parole (s77(3)). These will normally be that the prisoner must keep the parole officer informed of their current address, keep appointments for interviews with the parole officer, be of good behaviour and comply with the reasonable directions of the parole officer. Regular use is made of a condition which prevents parolees from entering any premises where alcohol is served and sold. These will be stated on the parole order, a copy which must be given to the prisoner (s72(7)). Section 72(8) requires the Board to give to prisoners reasons in writing for refusing parole or deferring its decision.

Breaching Parole

The Board can revoke (take away) or change the conditions of parole at any time (s79(1)(a)). Before doing this, however, the Board must give the prisoner the opportunity to present their views (s79(2)).

Where parole is revoked, the prisoner will have to complete what remained of their sentence when given parole and none of the period of parole will be taken into account (s79(5)). Life prisoners will again be back on ‘indeterminate’ sentences. Parole can, however, be granted again.

Disclaimer

This does not constitute legal advice and the Tasmanian Law Handbook should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. No responsibility is accepted for any loss, damage or injury, financial or otherwise, suffered by any person acting or relying on information contained in it or omitted from it.