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.
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.
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.
There is no entitlement to legal representation when a prison charge is being dealt with by a disciplinary officer. However, there is a Tasmanian Prisoners’ Legal Service.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Page last updated 29/07/2019