What happens when a prisoner arrives at prison?
A prisoner’s arrival at a prison, and their initial period of incarceration, is known as ‘reception’.
In Victoria, the main reception points for male adult prisoners are the:
- Melbourne Assessment Prison;
- Melbourne Remand Centre;
- Ravenhall Correctional Centre;
- Port Phillip Prison.
For female adult prisoners, the main reception point is the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.
Before arriving at one of these locations, prisoners may be held in police cells for a limited period.
At reception, a prisoner:
- has their identity confirmed, is measured and photographed;
- hands over personal property (including clothing) that will be stored while they are in custody;
- undergoes a strip search by prison officers;
- changes into prison-issue clothing (unless the prisoner is on remand, where they may be permitted to wear their own clothes);
- nominates the people who can visit them, and list the people they want to phone while in custody;
- can phone a friend, a family member or a lawyer.
The justifications for such measures are the security, good order and management of the prison.
The power to compel prisoners to comply with reception procedures is provided by the Corrections Act and Corrections Regulations. Reasonable force, as well as disciplinary proceedings, may be used on a prisoner who refuses to comply with the reception procedures.
In addition, prisoners may also be required to provide a sample of DNA to Victoria Police if, when sentenced to imprisonment, they were ordered to do so by the court under section 464ZF of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).
Prison admission procedures and COVID-19 prevention
All new prisoners are tested for COVID-19 and are required to spend 14 days in protective quarantine.
After reception, the prisoner is assessed. Prisoners undergo an initial risk assessment to identify any special needs and are referred to the appropriate prison services (e.g. disability or interpreter services). The assessment includes a health examination by medical staff. Where relevant, a mental health assessment is carried out by psychiatric staff.
Following the assessment, a prisoner is given an orientation of the prison. During orientation, the prison manager must ensure that the prisoner is given, in a readily understandable manner, information about prison routines and programs.
Typically, orientation includes the following topics:
- the prison’s rules and routines;
- the sentencing management system;
- procedures, including disciplinary processes;
- access to visits, correspondence, calls, money and property;
- access to health services;
- voting entitlements;
- the rights of prisoners to marry;
- work, vocational training, education and programs; and
- prisoners’ rights and recourse, including the complaints procedures.
Prisoners’ security ratings
Each prisoner is given a security rating. There are four levels of security rating: high, maximum, medium and minimum. Corrections Victoria assigns the security rating for each prisoner. One intent of the security rating system is to ensure that prisoners are managed in the least-restrictive way, based on an objective assessment of their security risk. Giving each prisoner a security rating also allows each prisoner to be placed in a prison that is best able to cater to their level of security risk.
When determining a security rating, Corrections Victoria considers the risk the prisoner presents to the prison community, to the community, to themselves or to any other person. Corrections Victoria must also consider other factors, including:
- the nature of the prisoner’s offence;
- the risk of the prisoner attempting to escape;
- the risk of the prisoner committing a further offence and the impact of this on the prison community;
- any risk the prisoner poses to the management, security and good order of the prison;
- any risk the prisoner poses to their own welfare, or that of others;
- the length of the prisoner’s sentence or the maximum sentence applicable to the prisoner’s offences;
- any other matter that is considered relevant to the management, security and good order of the prison, and to the safe custody and welfare of the prisoner.
Can prisoners apply for a change in security rating?
At any time during their period of imprisonment, a prisoner may apply in writing for a change to their security rating or classification. These applications are sent to the Case Management Review Committee (CMRC) (see ‘Case Management Review Committee’ in ‘Key administrative prison bodies‘). The CMRC submits the application, together with its comments and recommendations, to the Sentence Management Panel for a decision.
The CMRC is required to consider relevant matters, and to allow prisoners to make submissions. Therefore, the CMRC considers written submissions from friends, relatives, and a solicitor.
Failure by the Sentence Management Panel and/or the CMRC to consider relevant matters and to allow prisoners to make submissions to it before its decision may be subject to judicial review.
In Badenoch v Department of Justice  VSC 329 (19 August 2003), a prisoner unsuccessfully resisted his transfer from one prison to another, arguing that he would be unable to prepare properly for an appeal against conviction.
Usually, significant weight is given to the decisions of correctional administrators about matters such as classification. This is consistent with the view expressed by the Victorian Supreme Court that the process of classification is a ‘holistic process’ and not simply a ‘physical and geographical matter’ (see Knight v Spadano (2003) 145 A Crim R 1 at 13 per Justice Cummins).
Issues about a prisoner’s placement arose in R v White  VSC 142. On 5 March 2007, White was found non-guilty of murder on the grounds of mental impairment. Since his arrest in 2005, White had been held in custody. Despite the intention to detain White at the Thomas Embling Hospital, no bed was available for an extended period and White was detained in prison. Justice Bongiorno decided that it is not appropriate for people who have been found not guilty on the grounds of mental impairment to be imprisoned and that White’s continued imprisonment was contrary to White’s human rights. (Note that this case pre-dates the judicial powers provided in the Human Rights Charter.)
It is recommended that prisoners keep a written record of what has occurred between them and correctional administrators, in case they wish to challenge the legality of an administrative decision.
Individual management plan
A prisoner’s classification history is in their individual management plan. A prisoner is entitled to ask the prison authorities to see the classification history in their individual management plan.
A prisoner’s individual management plan also contains other records, such as those relating to sentence management. A prisoner does not have a general right to access these documents. However, a prisoner can make a freedom of information application to see these records (for more information about freedom of information applications, see Chapter 12.4: Freedom of information law).
Having been given a security rating, a prisoner is assigned to a suitable location. The Sentence Management Division is responsible for the placement of all prisoners (e.g. deciding in which prison and which section of that prison a prisoner will be placed).
When making a decision about prisoner placement, there are three primary considerations:
- the prisoner’s security rating;
- what is required to manage the prisoner; and
- the prisoner’s individual welfare and rehabilitation needs (e.g. family visit access, employment and training opportunities, prisoner program availability).
In general, a prisoner’s placement is determined based on consideration of the good order, security and management of the prison, and the safe custody and welfare of the prisoner. Other factors that may affect the placement of a prisoner include:
- the prisoner’s relevant prison or institution history (if any);
- certain risk factors (e.g. the risk of escape; the risk the prisoner poses to their own welfare or to that of another prisoner);
- access to programs (e.g. to reduce the risk of the prisoner reoffending);
- drug and alcohol use and treatment needs;
- medical or psychiatric conditions;
- physical limitations or disabilities;
- the prisoner’s cultural background;
- any family issues (e.g. access to family);
- any transitional requirements to reenter the community (this is relevant to prisoners nearing the end of their sentence).
Prisoners deemed to be in need of protection from other prisoners are placed in the protection unit at whatever prison they are placed at.
Each sentenced prisoner has a sentence plan that includes their program requirements and recommended activities to progress the prisoner through their sentence. Once a prisoner arrives at their location, this sentence plan is used to assist in developing a local action plan that details what the prisoner will do while at that particular location to address their identified needs.