In a recent High Court judgment (the High Court is the
highest court in Australia) his Honour Mr Justice Michael
Kirby (dissenting) commented that:
Prisoners are human beings. In most
cases, they are also citizens of this country, "subjects of the Queen" and "electors" under
the Constitution. They should, so far as the law can
allow, ordinarily have the same rights as all other persons
this Court. They have lost their liberty whilst they
are in prison. However, so far as I am concerned, they
not lost their human dignity or their right to equality
before the law.
quoted from Muir
v The Queen  HCA 21 at paragraph 25.
This quote underlines the point that criminal offenders lose their liberty
when they are sentenced to imprisonment, but
that in a civilised society they do not lose their rights
as citizens. In other words: the imprisonment is the punishment.
Our prisons are meant to be places of rehabilitation, not
places where extra punishment is added.
Despite this, the rights of prisoners are breached on a daily basis.
For example, both the NSW and federal governments have
stopped some prisoners from voting at elections. This amounts
to "double punishment" because the court has already imprisoned
these people and now the government is punishing them again
by taking away their voting rights. This is a blatant violation
of the constitutional right of all citizens to elect those
who govern them.
Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights states that:
1. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated
with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human
3. The penitentiary system shall
comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of
which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation. Juvenile offenders
shall be segregated
from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to
age and legal status.
human rights standards
The United Nations has adopted a set of Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/treatmentprisoners.htm).
The Australian Corrective Services Ministers Conference
adapted the UN Rules for Australia: Standard
Guidelines for Corrections in Australia (http://www.aic.gov.au/research/corrections/standards/aust-stand_1996.html).
See CCL's webpage on juveniles
in detention for UN standard for juveniles.
If you are an inmate in a NSW correctional centre and
you have a complaint, you can complain
to the NSW Ombusdman.
You can ask for the Ombudsman’s
number to be put on your telephone card as a legal call.
You will have to pay for the call, but the Departments
of Corrective Services and Juvenile Justice will reimburse
you. The NSW Ombudsman’s
numbers are: (02) 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (toll free).
Other contact details are:
Level 24, 580 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9286 1000
Toll free: 1800 451 524
Fax: (02) 9283 2911
TTY: (02) 9264 8050
If you are a federal prisoner in a correctional
centre anywhere in Australia and you have
a complaint, you can complain
to the federal Human Rights Commissioner. Contact details are:
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001
Complaints hotline: 1300 656 419
Other people you can complain to
If you a (state or federal) prisoner anywhere in NSW, you forward a
- Prisoners' Legal Service (Legal Aid Commission of NSW)
- NSW Council for Civil Liberties
- Justice Action