The Department of Justice is facilitating prisoners’ contact with family and friends but population pressures and inefficient processes are making it increasingly difficult to meet legislative requirements.
Overcrowding across the estate is affecting access to phones and the ability to provide visits for all prisoners. Competition for phones can result in tensions among prisoners, with the phones becoming a commodity as demand exceeds availability. The overcrowding means it is also increasingly difficult to meet prisoners’ visits entitlements which is compounded by an outdated telephone booking system that causes frustration for many visitors trying to schedule time with their loved one. Reduced familial contact can affect the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners, as well as cause strain on family relationships.
The Department has some measures in place to mitigate the barriers associated with maintaining contact with family for people in custody. The Department considers prisoners’ proximity to family when making placement decisions; it has established family support centres at several prisons across the state, and it provides phone allowances for those prisoners who are on remand or are far from home. But, population pressures are restricting placement options, family centres are providing fewer services following a recent change in contract, and phone allowances are insufficient to adequately cover the average cost of calls for people in custody.