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Note: the original hard copy of this report is 16 pages .

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Taking justice into custody: the legal needs of prisoners - summary report, Justice issues paper 2   

, 2008 All prisoners have criminal law issues. Civil and family law issues also emerge when people are imprisoned and removed from their daily lives. They add to legal problems which occurred before custody, and those particular to the prison environment (e.g. prison disciplinary matters and parole). Taking justice into custody: the legal needs of prisoners reports on in-depth qualitative research into the legal needs of prisoners and their capacity to access the law and legal help. This research includes interviews with prisoners, ex-prisoners, prison staff, lawyers and others, and a review of available literature and statistics. It also identifies opportunities for prisoners to obtain legal assistance and to participate in legal processes. However, through a combination of the prison environment, legal environment, prisoners` personal capacity, (often) convoluted pathways to legal help, and the pre-dominant prison culture, such opportunities may be missed or compromised....


Method


In this project, we used qualitative interviews to explore the experiences of prisoners and people recently released from prison. Through one-on-one interviews and a small number of focus groups, we also sought the perspectives of DCS staff and other legal and non-legal service providers who support both prisoners and ex-prisoners.

In total we interviewed 67 prisoners and ex-prisoners and 42 other stakeholders using semi-structured, open-ended questions. The prisoner sample for this project included 27 sentenced inmates and 19 inmates on remand, drawn from five NSW prisons. The ex-prisoner sample included 15 parolees and six unconditionally released inmates, who had been released from full-time custody in the last two years. Interviewees were asked a series of semi-structured, open-ended questions seeking information about their experience of different legal problems, what steps they had taken (if any) to remedy them and the current status of that problem.

The stakeholder sample for this project was drawn from DCS staff and other service providers. Nineteen DCS staff were interviewed, including prison welfare staff, a financial counsellor, parole officers, library staff, education officers, policy workers, ‘Throughcare’ workers, and department managers working both within correctional centres and in head office. Interviews were also conducted with 23 legal and non-legal service providers who provide support to prisoners and people recently released from prison.