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Chaired by Camilla Pandolfini from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Prisoners Forum meetings focused mainly on the topics of women in prison and prisoners’ health.
Guest speakers, including the Commissioner on Victims Rights, Principal Advisor on Women Offenders from Corrective Services NSW, Chief Legal Officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service, director of the Miranda Project, and representatives of the Inspector of Custodial Services, presented on a number of issues relating to women in prisons. Concerns raised include mixed gender correctional centres, overrepresentation of Aboriginal women and the high rate of those in remand not ending up with a custodial order (46%).
Representatives from the Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network presented the results of the three surveys on prisoners’ health, Aboriginal prisoners’ health, and the health of young people in custody (2015). Some notable issues were the high rate of homelessness prior to incarceration, high levels of chronic disease, and the high prevalence of previous head injury and psychological conditions in young people in prison.
In March 2018, the Prisoners Forum worked with the Fines and Traffic Law Working Group to successfully resolve an issue relating to Victims Restitution Orders (VRO) and Work and Development Orders (WDO) in prison. Following a letter from NLAF to the Commissioner of Corrective Services, drafted by members of both working groups, Corrective Services NSW agreed to change their policy to allow prisoners to undertake a WDO to pay off a VRO debt.
Fines and Traffic Law Working Group
The Fines and Traffic Law Working Group was chaired by Nadine Miles from the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd. Following tireless advocacy for almost five years to increase access to birth certificates, the working group was very pleased with the Attorney General’s decision to provide free birth certificates to Aboriginal people and disadvantaged community members.
NLAF raised concerns with the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight about the disproportionate number of bicycle fines being issued to young people in certain locations and the adult penalty rate being applied. These concerns were also raised with the Commissioner of Fines Administration and the New South Wales Police Commissioner. Despite receiving a negative response from the Minister, the working group will continue to work on this issue with academics and other stakeholders.
On a related issue, NLAF made a submission to the Commissioner of Fines Administration to provide feedback on the Fairer Penalty Notice System review. Representatives from the working group also met with Revenue NSW and the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation to discuss the proposed changes.