Contributor

Julia Gibby

Senior Solicitor

Communication, advice and support

Last updated

1 July 2020

Prison visits

Visits with lawyers and police officers

Professionals, including lawyers and police officers, may arrange with the prison to visit prisoners (in a professional capacity only and in accordance with prison security and visiting protocol). Such professionals can visit sentenced prisoners and those on remand.

Police visits: Prisoner rights

A police officer may visit a prisoner between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm. A prisoner may refuse such a visit or, if visited, may refuse to be interviewed (s 41). Following the introduction of section 464B into the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (‘Crimes Act (Vic)’), police may now make an application to the Magistrates’ Court for an order permitting them to interview a prisoner for offences other than offences for which they are held in custody. This amendment to the Crimes Act (Vic) does not remove the prisoner’s right to silence or privilege against self-incrimination.

Visits with relatives and friends

Prison visits and COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all personal visits to adult prisoners in Victoria were suspended on 21 March 2020. For up-to-date information about visiting a prisoner, see the website of Corrections Victoria (www.corrections.vic.gov.au/prisons/visiting-a-prisoner).

All prisoners can have up to 10 personal visitors on their visitors list (excluding children who do not need to be listed as a visitor). The number of personal visitors a prisoner can have at any one time depends on the rules of the particular prison, but typically is up to three adult visitors and a number of children.

As outlined above, prisoners are entitled to one half-hour visit by relatives and friends each week. The provisions of the Corrections Act that govern such visits are section 37 and regulation 83. See also section 38 and regulation 79, which govern contact and residential visiting programs.

Restrictions on visits involve the number of persons who may visit, time limitations, the degree of supervision and whether body contact is permitted. The restrictions imposed depend upon the prisoner’s classification. During visits, the prisoner may be permitted physical contact with visitors to varying degrees. Prison officers supervise visits, and prisoners are required to wear approved contact-visit overalls.

Prior to visiting, partners, friends and relatives of prisoners should make sure that the person they are visiting has put them on their visit list.

All prison visitors are subject to prison regulations and orders. Disobeying prison orders is an offence and could result in a visitor being banned from a prison. 

It is best to check with the prison to determine the visiting rights of the prisoner and any specific rules governing visits at the particular prison. Prisoners must record the full name, address and birth date of potential visitors on their prison visit lists.

Prisoners can refuse to accept visits from other people, including families, relatives and friends.

The prison manager has the discretion to extend or limit visiting rights. Special exceptions can be made for compassionate reasons.

There are restrictions as to what items can be given to prisoners. All gifts must be passed through the property section of the particular prison. Again, it is wise to check with the particular prison as to what items and what amount of money is permitted to be placed in the prisoner’s property.

The Corrections Act requires visitors to give prescribed information. This includes the person’s identity, address, occupation, age, relationship (if any) to the prisoner and the purpose of the visit.

Section 43 of the Corrections Act gives the prison manager the power to refuse or terminate visits for security reasons. Prison managers have the power to prohibit visitors from entering all or any prisons in Victoria if they believe on reasonable grounds that the good order or security of prisons or the safety of prisoners or visitors to prisons is threatened.

Visitors will be subject to searches of themselves and their belongings (ss 44, 45, 46 Corrections Act; reg 89). The prison manager has the power to direct a person to submit to drug or alcohol tests. If a person tests positive to such a test the prison manager can refuse prison entry.

If you are planning to visit a prisoner:

  • contact the prison before you visit;
  • make sure you are on the prisoner’s visitors list;
  • make sure you have the correct identification;
  • check the prison’s visiting times and the rules for visitors;
  • only take allowed property and money;
  • do not take any prohibited items into a prison.

See ‘Visiting a prisoner’ on the Corrections Victoria website (www.corrections.vic.gov.au).

Visitors’ identification

Visitors need to have 100 points of identification, which may include a combination of passport, driver licence, Medicare card, rates notice and/or birth certificate. There may be some slight variation between different prisons so it is a good idea to check with the relevant prison before attempting to visit. 

A list of approved identification is provided on the website of Corrections Victoria (www.corrections.vic.gov.au/prisons/visiting-a-prisoner/identification).

Restrictions on who can visit a prisoner

There are restrictions on who can visit a prisoner. 

Persons with a criminal history

Persons with a prior criminal history typically have to seek permission from the prison manager to visit someone in custody. The visits sections of prisons should have a form for that purpose. If they do not, it will be necessary to write a letter to the prison manager in which the prisoner is currently classified, requesting permission to visit.

Restricted access prisoners

A prisoner classified as ‘restricted access’ is unable to receive visits from children or to be present in the visiting area of the prison while children are present.

Prisoners may be classified as ‘restricted access’ if they have been charged with, convicted of, or have known prior convictions for one or more of the following offences:

  • offences involving physical or sexual abuse of children, including child pornography offences;
  • sex offences against an adult, where the offender has at least two previous convictions for similar offences;
  • offences involving physical or sexual assault of a vulnerable victim over 15 years of age.

Any prisoner identified as a restricted access prisoner must apply to the general manager of their prison to receive any visit from a child.

Contacting a prisoner by telephone

All prisoners can have up to 10 contact numbers on their phone list (this includes the numbers of professionals such as lawyers). Each phone call is called at 12 minutes and may be monitored and recorded for security purposes. Prisoners can only make phone calls if they have the necessary funds to cover the cost of the call.

Legal representatives may also request to arrange a professional phone call (or video conference) with their client. This is arranged through the prison and allows the lawyer and their client to have contact at no cost to the prisoner. The process for requesting a professional telephone call with a prisoner varies between prisons. 

If you are not calling from a professional organisation, you can not telephone a prisoner directly. However, you can ask to be added to a prisoner’s approved telephone list so the prisoner can call you. 

If you are unsure whether you are on a prisoner’s telephone list, check with the prisoner during a visit or by mail. Note that prisons cannot release information about who is on a prisoner’s telephone or visitors list (a prisoner’s telephone list is not the same as their visitors list).

Prisoners’ access to legal assistance

Legal representatives are permitted to visit at times fixed by the Corrections Regulations, between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm. Visits outside these hours are permitted with permission from the Minister for Corrections, the DJCS Secretary, or the prison manager. Legal representatives are permitted to exchange legal documents with the prisoner, and with the prison manager’s permission, the prisoner may retain legal documents in their possession (s 40; reg 75). It is best to check with the prison to confirm these professional visiting hours.

Prison Advice Service

VLA has a Prison Advice Service (see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter), whose members regularly visit the metropolitan prisons. Regional prisons are regularly visited by solicitors from regional VLA offices. The primary function of the Prison Advice Service is to provide legal advice in relation to forthcoming criminal matters, whether indictable or summary. The Prison Advice Service is currently available for prisoners in the Metropolitan Remand Centre, Port Phillip Prison, Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, Loddon Prison, Middleton Prison and Ravenhall Correctional Centre.

Prisoners can make free 12-minute telephone calls to the Prison Advice Service between 9 am – 3 pm on Monday to Friday. For more information, see Chapter 2.2: How legal aid can help.

Welfare

Welfare issues of prisoners are dealt with by correctional officers at the relevant prison location and prisoners also have access to religious services provided by various religious denominations who provide pastoral and other chaplaincy services. Prisoners are entitled to assistance from officers of the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (VACRO) (see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter).

Letters, parcels and telephone calls

All prisoners may send and receive letters and parcels. The Justice Legislation (Serious Offenders and Other Matters Act) 2019 (Vic) expanded the existing letter powers to include parcels. The general right to receive letters and parcels (under s 47(1)(m), (n)) has been altered, and is subject to sections 47AA–47E of the Corrections Act. Parliament has made it a specific offence for a prisoner to send distressing or traumatic letters or parcels to the victim of an offence (s 47DA Corrections Act).

There is a statutory presumption that letters or parcels sent to and received from the following exempt persons or bodies will not be opened by prison staff: Minister of Corrections, the DJCS Secretary, the Correctional Services Commissioner, a member of parliament, the Victorian Ombudsman’s office, an independent prison visitor, the Health Services Commissioner or a person acting on the Commissioner’s behalf, the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner or a person acting on the Commissioner’s behalf, Justice Health, the VEOHRC or a person acting on the VEOHRC’s behalf, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Security, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, the Victorian Inspectorate (oversight body in Victoria’s integrity system), a legal practitioner representing the prisoner or providing them with legal advice, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse (and other Royal Commissions as they arise). 

That presumption may be displaced, and the letter or parcel disposed of, if the prison manager reasonably suspects that the letter, parcel or unauthorised article or substance could pose an immediate threat to any person (s 47A). Section 47B permits certain confidential letters or parcels to be inspected by the prison manager if it is reasonably suspected that such a letter or parcel to or from a prisoner contains an unauthorised article or substance. The inspection of exempt mail myst be strictly in accordance with section 47B of the Corrections Act and regulation 17 of the Corrections Regulations. The practical application of this legislation is outlined in 4.07 of the Deputy Commissioner’s Instructions.

Letters or parcels to and from a legal practitioner, the Health Complaints Commissioner or the Equal Opportunity Commissioner may be inspected. The prison manager is given the power to ‘hold’ the letter or parcel and to notify the prisoner concerned, their legal representative and the relevant commissioner of their suspicions. The purpose of the notification is to allow the letter or parcel to be opened and inspected before those parties. Importantly, especially from the perspective of legal professional privilege, the prison manager is not permitted to read or censor the letter or parcel.

Additionally, section 47C permits all other letters or parcels to be opened and read to determine whether or not the contents of the letter may jeopardise the safety and security of the prison and the safe custody and welfare of the prisoner or community safety. There is no reasonable suspicion test in this section, or other objective criteria to determine when letters or parcels may be opened and read. The statute appears to envisage that all letters and parcels not falling within section 47(1)(m) will be read by prison authorities.

The use of telephones is a privilege available to prisoners to maintain communication links with family, friends and essential community ties. Prisoners may use phones, where they are available for prisoner use and at times determined by the prison manager. The prisoner is responsible for meeting any costs for telephone calls, unless exempted by the prison manager on welfare or legal grounds, or in other exceptional circumstances. All personal calls placed by prisoners through the prisoner telephone system are subject to recording and may be monitored. All phone calls with the prisoner’s lawyer are exempt from recording or monitoring. The use of phones is monitored by a Prisoner Telephone Control System, nation-wide and across all security classifications. The monitoring system restricts a prisoner to calling 10 phone numbers, all of which must be registered and approved by the prison manager.

In addition to such direct forms of communication, the welfare officers of Corrections Victoria, officers of VACRO, the Prison Advice Service, and other authorised people can act as intermediaries between prisoners and their families. They can be most helpful in this role in stressful situations, and prisoners are entitled to request their assistance. For Indigenous prisoners and their families and friends, contact with the designated Aboriginal Liaison Officer at the relevant prison can often be very helpful.

Leave for special purposes

The DJCS Secretary can permit an imprisoned person to be temporarily absent from the prison for any approved purpose (s 57 Corrections Act). Approved purposes include visiting families where the prisoner was a primary caregiver before and following their imprisonment, or (in exceptional circumstances) attending an educational or training institution, participating in sport or other recreational activities, seeking employment, attending a funeral or obtaining necessary medical or psychiatric attention.

Custodial Community Permits

Under section 57 of the Corrections Act (see also reg 39 Corrections Regulations), the DJCS Secretary may issue a Custodial Community Permit to a prisoner that authorises the prisoner to be absent from the prison for a specified period. The two categories of Custodial Community Permits are:

  1. Corrections Administration Permits (s 57A); and
  2. Rehabilitation and Transition Permits (s 57B).

A Corrections Administration Permit may be issued for purposes relating to the following:

  • the prisoner’s health;
  • the administration of justice;
  • to contact a Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) worker (for intellectually disabled prisoners);
  • to visit a person with whom the prisoner has a long-standing personal relationship if that person is seriously ill or in acute personal need;
  • to attend a funeral of someone with whom the prisoner had a long-standing personal relationship; 
  • to visit another prison where a close member of a prisoner’s family is imprisoned.

Such permits may also be issued for a prisoner for the above purposes (and for ‘any other compassionate purpose’) to travel interstate. Prisoners may be asked if they can contribute to the cost of interstate travel. For Indigenous prisoners, the definition of ‘compassionate purpose’ includes attending an occasion of special significance to their immediate or extended family (s 82(c)).

A Rehabilitation and Transition Permit may be issued for purposes relating to the following:

  • to take part in a pre-release program;
  • the physical fitness or education of the prisoner;
  • to undertake unpaid community work; or
  • for the maintenance of the prisoner’s family ties.

All rehabilitation and transition permits must form part of a structured permit plan, with both timelines and outcomes developed by the prisoner and their case worker and approved in advance. As prisoners progress through their rehabilitation and transition plans, they may become eligible to progress to undertaking unescorted permits.

The decision whether to grant leave is made by the DJCS Secretary. Applications are submitted to the prison manager or to the local Review and Assessment Committee. Before any permit is issued, a comprehensive security and risk assessment is conducted, with community safety being the paramount consideration. Also, there are strict eligibility criteria and duration restrictions for each category of permit that apply to all prisoners (for more information, see the Custodial Community Permit Program Guidelines, published in February 2020).

Prisoners on permits can be escorted by an officer or unescorted; the determination of this will be subject to an individual risk assessment. The period a prisoner spends on such leave is counted as part of the time served. Such applications are subject to regulations and were formerly granted as custodial community permits. They have now been replaced by the Corrections Administration Permits and Rehabilitation and Transition Permit Program. Depending on the purpose of the leave from the prison, a prisoner will receive a ‘Corrections Administration Permit’ or ‘Rehabilitation and Transition Permit’ (see also Local Operating Procedures and Operations Manuals).

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