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Prison Official Visitors Program

Prison Official Visitors are members of the community who are appointed to visit prisons and reception centres to check on the way in which prisoners and detainees are being treated. They also investigate complaints made to themby prisoners and detainees.

Official Visitors operate independently from the Tasmanian Prison Service. Consistently with their independence, their administrative support is provided by the Office of the Ombudsman and Health Complaints Commissioner.

The following text is taken from my Annual Report as Ombudsman for 2009/10.

Annual Report 2009/10

The Prison Official Visitors continue to play a vital role in monitoring and reporting on the treatment and conditions of prisoners and detainees in the State’s prisons. They also assist prisoners and detainees to raise and resolve concerns and complaints.

Visitors are appointed by the Minister under the Corrections Act 1997 for a fixed term of two years. Up until June 2010, Visitors received a small annual honorarium and a contribution to their expenses. I am pleased to report that the government has provided funding from 1 July 1010 to remunerate the Prison Official Visitors at the same rate as the Mental Health Official Visitors.

One Visitor resigned during the year, and at the end of the reporting period there were 6 Visitors who between them visited all the correctional facilities in the State.

Visitors come from diverse backgrounds, with a range of experience, expertise and skills. They each bring their own perspective to the role. Their combined observations provide a detailed picture of the prison environment, its management and the prevailing concerns of prisoners and detainees.

Corrective Services and Correctional Officers recognise and respect the role of the Official Visitors, who regularly report a high level of cooperation from management and staff during their visits. Official Visitors are allowed free access to prisoners and detainees, who are able to raise matters of concern to them in an informal and confidential way. If these concerns relate to matters of routine or day to day management, the Visitors are often able to resolve them on the spot. The Visitors regularly debrief with custodial managers at the conclusion of their visits and are able to convey to management directly what they have seen or had brought to their attention, that needs to be addressed. Matters raised by prisoners and detainees with the Visitors during the reporting year included:

  • access to medication and medical and dental treatment particularly specialist treatment at the Royal Hobart Hospital
  • the cost of telephone calls and access to telephones
  • the cost of canteen items and the variety of items available
  • dietary issues
  • access to art and craft materials and programs
  • access to personal property held by the prison, and lost property
  • concerns about outside issues, such as Centrelink benefits, utility bills, etc.

The Official Visitors regularly report their observations and concerns to me, and I refer more serious or systemic issues to Prison Management for its response, which is generally positive and constructive. The Visitors’ reports keep me informed about the state of the prison system, which is otherwise a largely closed environment.

For example, the Official Visitors played a role in bringing to my attention the condition of inmates in the Behaviour Management Programme housed in the maximum security Tamar Unit, which was the subject of the report which I tabled in Parliament on 24 June 2010 under the Ombudsman Act 1978.

Official Visitors also facilitate more formal complaints to me by providing inmates with Ombudsman complaint forms. These are provided to prisoners and detainees by prison officers and management upon request, but many prisoners are not comfortable asking for them and often need the process to be explained to them. Visitors also act as conduits for the small number of inmates who wish to communicate with my Office but who still distrust the Arunta telephone system and are not convinced that their letters are forwarded unopened.

Because Visitors visit each facility and unit on a regular basis, they are able to monitor change and the manner in which prisoners’ concerns are being dealt with.

1800 001 170

Contact Details

9.00am to 5pm (Hobart time) weekdays.

Free call from landline phones anywhere in Tasmania, but call charges may apply from a mobile phone.

Translating and Interpreting Service

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Visit the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National website for more information