Call for jail to be remand centre

Aboriginal Legal Service solicitor Kate Biffin and field officer Avery Brown fear jail restructure will be harmful for the indigenous community.
Aboriginal Legal Service solicitor Kate Biffin and field officer Avery Brown fear jail restructure will be harmful for the indigenous community. Adam Hourigan

THE legal fraternity in Grafton is calling for the Grafton Jail to be officially declared a long-term remand centre, not just a transient centre, which can only hold prisoners for short-term stays, usually no longer than three days.

Magistrate David Heilpern told Grafton Local Court on Monday that prisoners moved long distances from their families would greatly reduce the likelihood of rehabilitation and may lead to some accused people being granted bail in order to be near relatives.

Speaking at a bail hearing for a man accused of a home invasion, Mr Heilpern addressed the concerns of defence solicitor Kate Biffin that her client was likely to be moved a great distance from his family.

"A key factor in rehabilitation is involvement with the family and without that support there is less likely to be rehabilitation," Mr Heilpern said.

"Prisoners also ought to be in contact with legal representatives ... this concerns me greatly because the likelihood of rehabilitation is greatly reduced.

"There may be cases, and this is clearly not one of them, when it will be a defining factor in determining bail."

Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) solicitor Kate Biffin echoed Mr Heilpern's concerns about rehabilitation and said there was a particularly heavy impact on the indigenous community.

"Many people can't afford to travel long distances and they may not have licences or a vehicle," she said.

Phone calls from prisoners to their families also require money from the inmate.

Ms Biffin said contacting her clients had become a "nightmare" since the downgrade of the jail.

Whereas previously Ms Biffin would visit Grafton Jail weekly and see about five clients, she now had to track down her clients, book a phone call with 48-hours notice and hope that they weren't moved in the interim.

Add to this, the Grafton office of the ALS has no audio visual facilities to connect to other jails and Ms Biffin's ability to properly represent clients is seriously impacted by the jail restructure.

Ms Biffin once had to travel to Lismore for a video hook-up to a client in Kempsey Jail.

"A lot of people that end up with Corrective Services are found not guilty ... and these people that are being held on remand often get left out of the debate," she said.

"One time I tried to book several phone calls by fax and was then told the jail could not facilitate the phone call and I would have to send a letter."

ALS field officer Avery Brown said rehabilitation was virtually impossible without the support of family - particularly in the Aboriginal community, who consider their extended family to be vital to their well-being and spirituality.

He said putting Bundjalung people into "new tribal areas" put them at risk especially if there had been feuds between mobs.

"What happened to the recommendation from the Aboriginal deaths in custody inquiry, which said Aboriginal people should be kept in their own country? That just went out the window."

Topics:  grafton jail

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