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

, 2008 , 16 p.
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....

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Taking justice into custody is part of a broader program of research being undertaken by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales into the access to justice by, and the legal needs of, economically and socially disadvantaged people.1 Prisoners have been included in this program because of:
  • the concentration of disadvantage in the prison population in terms of higher levels of mental illness, intellectual disability, histories of alcohol and other drug misuse, poverty, poor education, and unemployment than in the general New South Wales (NSW) population
  • the existence of previously collected evidence that prisoners experience a unique range of barriers in meeting their legal needs because of the nature of the prison environment
  • the dearth of research on this topic.

The report examines the capacity of prisoners in NSW to:
  • obtain legal information (for criminal, civil and family law matters)
  • obtain legal advice and representation (including basic legal advice, initial legal assistance and legal representation)
  • participate effectively in legal processes (including access to courts, tribunals, and prison disciplinary/administrative processes).

Included under these aims was the ability of prisoners to obtain assistance with their legal issues from non-legal sources (including the NSW Department of Corrective Services (DCS) and external support agencies), as previous research has demonstrated the important role such assistance plays in resolving legal issues (see, for example, Forell, McCarron & Schetzer, 2005, No home, no justice? The legal needs of homeless people in NSW). The investigation examined the above issues in relation to not only the prisoners’ existing legal troubles, but other legal problems that may arise or be prevented during their incarceration.


Grunseit, A, Forell, S & McCarron, E 2008, Taking justice into custody: the legal needs of prisoners - summary report, Justice issues paper 2, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney