Prisoner employment and other issues

Prisoners can earn money while in prison by working or taking set educational courses. Prisoners can buy and sell property, sue or be sued and many prisoners have the right to vote. A prisoner may apply for approval to change their name. Prisoners are not entitled to unemployment benefits.

Prisoners’ money

A prisoner’s money is held in a trust account and managed by the prison’s management. A prisoner’s account holds the money they earn in prison and any money given to them by family or friends.

Family and friends may bring money to the prison when they visit, or post a cheque or money order to the prison; this is then deposited into the prisoner’s account by prison management.

The maximum amount of “private money” a prisoner can receive is $140 per calendar month. However, prison management may allow a prisoner to receive additional private money to pay for long-distance phone calls to family and friends. There is no limit to the amount of money that can be held in a prisoner’s account.

Prisoners’ employment

Sentenced prisoners may be directed to work in a prison industry (s 84H Corrections Act). Remand prisoners are not required to work, but they may choose to if work is available.

The range of occupations available varies from prison to prison. They include employment in a range of prison industry programs, gardening, farming, cleaning prison areas and clerical work.

Assignment to employment is conducted by prison-based review and assessment committees, which consider a range of factors, including a prisoner’s work skills, previous employment and security needs. A prisoner may request a new occupation at any time.

The Corrections Regulations state that a prisoner must be paid for work performed as the result of assignment to that work (reg 40). Prisoners also receive payment for participating in education and approved programs. The rate of payment varies according to the type of work undertaken, complexity of the work, skills required, prisoner’s ability and degree of responsibility, and the hours worked.

A prisoner’s earnings can be used to buy items from the prison canteen or to build savings, which are paid to the prisoner when they are released.

Some of the money earned by prisoners is withheld as compulsory savings that are made available to the prisoner when they are released. This is to help the prisoner with the costs related to their reintegration into the community. The amount withheld is 20 per cent of the prisoner’s earnings.

Under the Corrections Regulations, prison management can deduct money from a prisoner’s account for certain reasons. For example, money can be deducted from a prisoner’s account to cover the cost of replacing or repairing prison property that has been wilfully damaged or lost by the prisoner. Also, if a prisoner is fined (seePrisoner offences”), the fine amount is withdrawn from the prisoner’s account.

If a prisoner cannot be placed in employment due to a lack of available positions, they receive a minimum allowance. Remand prisoners also receive a minimum allowance.

A prison manager may dismiss a prisoner who in the prison manager’s opinion is not performing satisfactorily, or is disruptive to the program (reg 41).

Prisoners who refuse to work, or who are dismissed from work due to poor performance, or who have lost their privileges, receive no payment from Corrections Victoria.

Occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation and WorkSafe do not apply to prisoners. Prisoners are not considered employees as there is no contract of employment.

However, if a prisoner is injured due to unsafe conditions, or due to the prison’s negligence, the matter can be dealt with by a claim under common law (seeCommon law duty of care”).

Centrelink benefits and allowances

Prisoners do not have a right to receive Centrelink benefits. However, a possible exception to this is prisoners with a right to sickness benefits. It has been held that a prisoner serving a life sentence who was hospitalised for schizophrenia was eligible to receive sickness benefits from the Australian Government Department of Social Services. The prisoner in that case was not detained in a mental hospital in connection with his conviction for an offence (see Secretary, Department of Social Security v Bulsy Australian Social Security Guide 92–135).

Education

Prisoners can enrol in educational courses. Courses ranging from primary school level to tertiary level are available in most prisons.

Buying and selling property

Prisoners may legally buy and sell all forms of property, make wills, enter contracts, and sue and be sued for damages. A prisoner may nominate a person to receive any of their property (reg 36.1).

Voting

People released from prison

People who have been released from prison can enrol and vote in local, state and federal elections. It does not matter how long the person was in prison for, why they were in prison, or whether or not they have a permanent address. They just need to be an Australian citizen and be at least 18 years old.

Sentenced prisoners

Prisoners who are serving a sentence in Victoria of less than three years are entitled to enrol and vote in local, state and federal elections.

Prisoners on remand

Prisoners on remand are eligible to enrol and vote in local, state and federal elections.

Prisoners on parole

Prisoners on parole can not vote in local or state elections, but they can vote in federal elections.

How prisoners vote

There are two ways prisoners can vote. First, by post. Second, at a voting booth set up at the prison by election officials. The prison manager advises the AEC whether a voting booth is required at the prison. Prisoners are entitled to become general postal voters, which means they are automatically sent postal voting material at state and federal elections without having to apply for a postal vote.

Change of name

While in custody a prisoner can only change their name (or their children’s names) with the DJCS Secretary’s written approval; it is an offence for a prisoner to change their name without that prior approval (s 47H Corrections Act). The DJCS Secretary can only approve a change of name if they are “satisfied that the change of name is in all the circumstances necessary or reasonable” (s 47I (1)). Similar provisions apply to prisoners who are on parole (see ss 79B, 79C).