When will NSW reinstate visits for prisoners and their loved ones?

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Prisoner in despair in jail cell: NSW Prison visits reinstatedThe NSW Government is yet to release a timeline to re-instate prison visits for family and friends of inmates. Social visits were suspended back in March and are yet to be reinstated.

In lieu of social visits, prisons have been facilitating one 30 min video call each week for inmates, however, the lack of physical visits has been difficult, to say the least.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge released a statement, urging the NSW Government to pay attention and create a timeline to reinstate visitors.

“[T]here has been little indication as to when visits will be reinstated,” Shoebridge said in a statement.

“[W]orkplaces are allowed to have 300 people for the purpose of “Melbourne Cup Events”, yet families are not able to see their brothers and sisters, mums and dads, or their children.”

Children have gone nine months without seeing their mum, dad

The children of those with mums and dads in prison are part of the most forgotten group affected by the criminal justice system.

Chief Executive Officer of Shine for Kids Andrew Kew told The Feed that he’s seen an increase in the level of anxiety on families while physical visits have been suspended during COVID-19.

“Quite often the children especially, and families are the forgotten victims in this situation,” Kew told The Feed.

“Obviously, safety in the prison space needs to be a priority. But there hasn’t been a lot of communication or information for these families.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), most women who are incarcerated in corrections facilities have children who depend on them. Not only does this create significant stress on the mums but also on the children.

Prisoner advocate and admin of the largest prisoner advocate web page in Australia Renée McNab would like to see jail visits open up in time for kids to see their mums and dads for Christmas.

“Families and children are the innocent victims in all this and there is no reason to keep punishing them when visits can be reinstated safely. Especially seeing it is nearly Christmas – a time when family and support is needed and matters the most. It is such a hard time of year for anyone especially those incarcerated and with loved ones locked up,” she stated.

Prisoners and their family and friends are the forgotten members of society

NSW Minister of Corrections Anthony Roberts
NSW Minister of Corrections Anthony Roberts is yet to make a formal statement of reinstating visits.

There are rumours that some jails are opening visits at the end of November, however, these rumours haven’t been substantiated.

“I’ve spoken to Junee, Parklea and Silverwater but they’re telling me it’s not true,” stated Renée Mcnab.

Renée can’t understand how visits haven’t been reinstated, given the current restrictions for the rest of the state.

“If we can have 40,000 at the NRL grand final, then we can very well implement safe, socially distanced visits in prisons,” she said. “The media is talking about opening borders, and lifting restrictions however there’s no mention of prisoners – it’s like they’re forgotten. “

As an admin of the largest prisoner advocate page, Renée has heard first hand of the stories of declining mental health.

“It’s heartbreaking, I’ve seen a decline in mental health in loved ones. Some inmates with cancer can’t connect with their families.”

The video system that has been implemented in most prisons have received praise from corrections and the government, but the reality is a different story.

“From someone that uses the video system, it’s very unreliable. I was informed 20-30minutes before my last session that the technology wasn’t working and all visits have been cancelled.”

Renee understood the need for video visits back when COVID-19 was extremely prevalent in NSW, however now that the rest of the state’s restrictions have eased, she pushes for in-person visits.

“Even if they are socially distanced and no-touch, just being able to sit opposite them and putting your eyes on them.”

Mental health takes a hit as visits called off

The mental health of both inmates and loved ones have suffered as a result of the lack of visits and uncertainty as to their reinstatement.

“We also have had families contact us concerned that their family members inside have lost access to their psychologists and other therapeutic programs during this time,” Shoebridge stated.

Losing access to psychologists and other mental health providers during this extremely stressful time would create profound impacts we are yet to feel.

According to the AIHW, in 2018 40% of inmates self-reported a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition. Twenty-six (26%) per cent of prison entrants had a high or very high level of psychological distress when entering prison.

The strain put on inmates, who are already carrying a high mental load, would be damaging any chances of recovery in their mental health journey.

When will we know?

We call on the Government to lay out a timeline of reinstatement of visits. There are excuses as to why this hasn’t occurred. We understand the importance of COVID-19 safe protocols and would be pushing for safe, masked visits.

To join the prisoner advocate page run by Renée, click here.

Sarah Gore

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O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors specialise in multiple areas of criminal and civil law. 

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