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Prison amenities

There are several prison amenities you should immediately make use of: phone calls, visits and legal visits, letters, medical care, education and activities, and reading material.

The amenities in Australian prisons are generally called privileges as, in reality, prisoners have very few legally enforceable rights. In Victoria, however, unlike other jurisdictions, certain rights are enshrined in legislation ( see section 47 Corrections Act 1986 (Vic)).

As human and social beings prisoners also retain most of their democratic rights. Furthermore, prisoners can directly enforce their democratic rights by insistence on them, by solidarity, by appeals to outside groups and to official bodies. These pressures work in the case of rights which are widely recognised and which are contained in section 47 of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic), such as the rights to fresh air, proper food, decent health care, to avenues of complaint, access to lawyers, visits from friends, access to a library and education facilities, reasonable communications facilities and so on.

In practice, there are a number of prison amenities (other than food, clothing and a bed) you should immediately become familiar with and make use of. The most important of these are:

Phone calls

Prisoners at all Victorian prisons can make phone calls, usually one or two a week, not counting calls to lawyers. Each jail has a different set-up for booking calls. The use of phones is monitored by a Prisoner Telephone Control System, state-wide and across all security classifications. The monitoring system restricts a prisoner to calling five phone numbers, all of which must be registered and approved by the prison Governor. Victoria Legal Aid provides a telephone for the use of prisoners at the Melbourne Custody Centre. The phone is available for use free of charge to prisoners and is located in the records area. The phone is a direct link to the Prison Advice Service.

Visits & legal visits

Generally speaking remand (unconvicted) prisoners have no different rights to convicted prisoners. However they are allowed more visits than those provided to convicted prisoners. Remand prisoners at the Melbourne Custody Centre are allowed box visits each day and a contact visit (where you can touch your visitor) once a week. The Metropolitan Assessment Prison allows one box visit and one contact visit a week. Prisoners need to provide prison authorities with a list of the names and addresses of the people who will be visiting them. These practices change regularly, so it is advisable to check by phoning the prison if you are planning to visit someone.

Visitors can't legally (by prison rules) give you food, money or other things. Visitors who break these rules can be banned from future visits. Clothing, money and gifts can be placed in a person's property, however it is wise to check with the particular prison as to what items and what amount of money is permitted. Visits may be from 30 minutes to three hours long. Again, each prison has a different set-up. There is no limit to the number of legal visits you can have, within visiting hours. If you're visiting a friend who is a prisoner, it's often wise to check by phone if your friend is actually in the prison and that you are on their visit list. If you make an effort to travel to a jail, particularly a country jail, it can be very frustrating to discover that your inmate friend has been moved elsewhere or that you are unable to see them because your name has not been included on their list.

Letters

The sending and receiving of letters is a right contained in the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic): see section 47(1)(m) & (n)). The Act explains that letters are not to be censored except where the prison governor considers prison security is threatened. All incoming mail is opened to check for contraband (drugs, money, etc).

Medical care

Every day there are usually morning and afternoon clinic periods when you can get medical attention from a nurse. You need to book in to see a doctor, dentist or specialist. Prisoners have the right to make a request for medical care and attention at any time (see Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) section 47(1)(f)). Prisoners are also entitled to pay for and obtain a private medial practitioner, physiotherapist or chiropractor of their choice.

Education & activities

Every jail has some sort of education centre, with limited facilities. There will also be an activities centre, with some sports facilities and possibly access to a sports ground. Check these facilities out and make use of them.

Reading material

The one thing you can have sent in to you (other than money, which is kept for you in an account) is reading material. Although there are restrictions on how many books and magazines you can keep in your cell, you can share them around or return them to the property that is held for you at reception near the prison gate. So ask friends to send you, or leave at the gate, books or magazines. Newspapers, however, must be ordered for an entire month. Occasionally some reading material is withheld by the jailers have your outside friends inform you what they've sent, and if it is withheld, fight to get it back.

Money & buy-ups

Each week you can use your private money, from an account held for you by the jail, to order some food, toiletries and other items that are available on the jail's buy up. There are also activities buy-ups where you can order such things as sports shoes. Items available vary from jail to jail.

Televisions & radios

Victorian prisoners can purchase these (they can't be left at the gate drug rationale) on activities buy-ups, where you place an order a week in advance with the activities officer, and he or she uses the money in your account to buy these and other things such as sports shoes.

Protection

The segregated protection sections of every jail are for those who require protection for a variety of reasons. This could be either because they are young and unsure of the main jail, or because they fall within one of the two categories of people who aren't tolerated in prison culture: child molesters and informers.

Segregation

Some prisoners are also segregated for punishment, management reasons or for medical supervision. The Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) and the Corrections Regulations 1998 (Vic) provide the legal basis for segregation of prisoners. The practices and conditions of segregation are also outlined in Director-General's Rules. The length of separation varies. Separation for punishment can be for up to 30 days. When the prison governor orders the separation of a prisoner a separation order must be completed and a copy provided to the prisoner.

Ombudsman

Under the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic) and section 47(1)(j) of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic), a prisoner has the right to correspond with the Ombudsman setting out his or her complaints. If you can't sort out a problem at a local level, or if your problem is about amenities which affect other prisoners, consider making a written complaint to the Ombudsman. If the Ombudsman finds a complaint to be justified, a remedial course of action is recommended to the prison authorities.

Official visitor

Each prison has an official visitor appointed under the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic). These visitors may visit the prison to which they have been appointed as they see fit, to inspect the facilities, observe the workings of the prison and discuss any topic they feel appropriate with prisoners and staff. Prisoners can request to see the official visitor and the prison governor is required to bring to the attention of the official visitor the names of prisoners and officers who have requested to see the official visitor.

Civil proceedings

You can take out civil legal proceedings as a prisoner; however, there are a number of obstacles placed in the way of prisoners, especially when it comes to actions against jailers. Also, those convicted of serious offences will have trouble suing for defamation, as their reputations are said to be tainted. Prisoners have access to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal and to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Voting

You can vote as a prisoner. However voting rights are legally denied to those convicted and jailed for offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is more than 5 years. The position for prisoner appellants (those convicted but waiting on appeal) is still untested, but while the matter is not clarified, the Australian Electoral Office has allowed some appellants to vote.

Prison discipline

There are procedures under the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) for allegations of various types of misconduct by prisoners to be heard and punished by either the disciplinary officer or the prison governor if a prisoner is charged with a prison offence. No legal representative is able to attend the governor's hearing, however the prisoner is entitled to have another prisoner present. The decision of the governor may be reviewed if, within 30 days after the giving of notification of the decision or the reasons for the decision (whichever is the later), application is made under the Administrative Law Act 1978 (Vic), or alternatively, to the Supreme Court, for judicial review of the governor's decision, based on general principles of administrative law.