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Discarded memories: prisoners’ access to storage cut

Prisoners lose storage facilities. Image supplied by Justice Action

Commencing in July, the Department of Attorney-General and Justice will be cutting funding to the Prisoners’ Aid Association of NSW in order to divert funds to “transitional” services that assist people upon release.

For over a century, the Association has played an important role in helping inmates transition back into the community by collecting and storing their property whilst they are in prison.

The announcement to cut funding was first made by Corrective Services NSW, a division of the DAGJ, in September 2013 with the proposal now confirmed to go ahead as planned.

Manager of the Prisoners’ Aid Association, Craig Baird, argues that the work of the PAA is very much a transitional service focused on assisting people after they are released from prison.

“[Prisoners] need to have their belongings when they are released so they are able to resettle into the community and hopefully lead successful, law-abiding lives.

“People that are coming into the system in the coming months and years will lose their property. It will get chucked out.”

The Prisoners’ Aid Association was established in 1901. It provides a collection and storage service for the property of inmates upon arrest, as well as assistance with financial transactions. During his 23 years with the association, Mr Baird estimates they have helped inmates on over 125,000 occasions.

“We store property for about a thousand inmates. It consists of personal belongings, identification documents and trade certificates,” Mr Baird said.

Brett Collins, coordinator of social justice advocacy group Justice Action, said Corrective Services made the announcement to cut the funding stream to the Prisoners’ Aid Association on the basis of a decision made by former NSW Justice Minister Greg Smith.

“[Greg Smith] said, ‘We’ll trim some fat out of the budget and force organisations like the Prisoners’ Aid Association to tender for services that they’ve previously already done and which they’ve maintained’,” Mr Collins said.

“Prisoners need — it’s not a question of want — they need to have secure storage. It’s an obligation along with the obligation to care for the prisoner.”

NSW Labor MP Paul Lynch asserts that the government has not considered the impact of the decision and has been motivated entirely by cutting costs.

“The lack of Prisoners’ Aid Association’s services will make it harder for released prisoners to re-establish themselves. That makes it more likely they’ll re-offend and return to jail,” Mr Lynch argued.

A spokesperson for Corrective Services said the department is ensuring the distribution of funds is aligned with the priorities of the NSW government and the DAGJ.

“Providing services that support the reduction of re-offending and enhance community safety is a major priority,” said the spokesperson.

“It is important to note that substantially larger numbers of high-risk offenders will be provided with post-release support and assistance under the new Funding Partnership Initiative.”

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