Although spending time in custody is increasingly for punishment rather than rehabilitation, once a convicted person has served-out their sentence, the idea is that they should be able to go back into the community and get their lives back on track.
Unfortunately, in a rapidly evolving digital world, this process can be made more difficult due to the lack of access that inmates have to technology and online platforms like email and social media, which are considered essential to modern life.
Keeping in touch with the outside world can help with the rehabilitation process, and can allow those who are released to integrate more easily into a society that is in rapidly changing.
One recent initiative aimed at addressing this issue has fiercely divided public opinion, fuelling debate about whether inmates should be allowed access to the public via email, and whether it is acceptable for them to be given a platform to state opinions and beliefs that may be distressing or even offensive to others.
Justice Action iExpress
Justice Action iExpress is a website administered by prisoner advocacy organisation Justice Action that uploads images and profile information on behalf of inmates, and sends and receives emails for them.
The organisation believes that allowing inmates to keep in closer contact with loved ones and providing them with a platform for self-expression can have a number of benefits for them and their families.
Justice Action iExpress has been a controversial move, as it has been used by some inmates to protest their innocence, or to publicise details about life in prison.
Others have used the service to write poetry, and to express their remorse and ask for forgiveness.
Corrective Services NSW has categorically stated that it doesn’t support the site, and a Corrections Victoria spokesperson has also made it clear that authorities in that state don’t endorse it either.
What are the benefits of Justice Action iExpress for inmates?
Social exclusion is a problem faced by many people serving custodial sentences and this is one of the problems that Justice Action hopes to alleviate with the free-of-charge service.
By allowing prisoners an opportunity to express themselves and their identity online, as well as keep in contact with friends and family members, the organisation aims to improve the mental health of inmates and help them rehabilitate.
A positive mental attitude and connections with the outside world can be extremely beneficial for inmates who are likely to be released, and can help them integrate into the community more readily, and therefore reduce the chances of them getting into a cycle of criminal activity.
Having a means to express themselves in a positive manner can help to enhance self-esteem, and allows them an avenue for self-expression which was previously unavailable.
How does it work?
As inmates are not allowed direct access to the internet or email, material is uploaded to the site via Justice Action workers, who print out emails for prisoners, and scan in and send written replies on their behalf.
All email undergoes the same censoring procedures that traditional prison mail does, and images and written material uploaded to the site are subject to censorship rules and nothing defamatory or aggressive is allowed.
Arguments against iExpress
In spite of this, there have been a number of calls for the website to be closed down, and even for Justice Action to be prosecuted.
Arguments against services like Justice Action iExpress mostly focus on the perceived effect on victims, and concerns that inmates have too many rights.
Concerns are particularly prevalent when those convicted of serious crimes are involved.
Some of the inmates that have profiles on the site include Sydney murderer John Meyn, who has used the site to proclaim his innocence, while another convicted murderer, Shane Symiss, has posted a number of complaints about mistreatment in custody.
While there are victim rights campaigners who support the system, they believe that there is potential for it to be abused if inmates use it to taunt or harass others.
Should inmates be allowed freedom of speech?
Freedom of expression is a basic right in Australia, and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks believes that inmates have a right to communicate and express themselves publicly, despite being incarcerated.
With the right checks to ensure that the system isn’t abused, Justice Action iExpress has potential to improve the lives of inmates and even help them to access support and rehabilitative services which can be beneficial for both the inmate and the wider community.