What can inmates and offenders complain about?
People in custody, or offenders in the community, can complain to the Ombudsman about any NSW government agency. Some examples of the types of complaints we receive include:
- not being treated properly or fairly
- unreasonable decisions being made
- delays in receiving information or a service.
Apart from Corrective Services NSW and Justice Health, some of the agencies that inmates might come in contact with include the Department of Education and Communities, State Debt Recovery Office, local councils and transport bodies. The Ombudsman may be able to assist with complaints about any of these or other NSW government agencies.
More information about what the Ombudsman does generally and the areas we cover can be found on our Home page.
How do inmates and offenders complain?
Most complaints about things which happen in custody should first be raised with the inmate’s wing or unit manager. The inmate may also need to lodge an inmate application form to bring the problem to the attention of the general manager of the centre. If the problem is still not resolved contact can be made with the Corrective Services Support Line (CSSL). This service has been set up by Corrective Services NSW to identify and resolve inmates' problems in a timely manner. The CSSL is #1 on the freecall list on inmate phones at all centres.
Inmates can also speak to the Official Visitor about their complaints. At least one official visitor is appointed by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice to visit each centre once a fortnight. They are available to speak to inmates (and staff) about their complaints and will try to get their problems fixed. They can also help with making complaints to other agencies such as the Ombudsman.
Complaints that can't be resolved locally can be referred to us. If possible, complaints to us should be in writing. The complaint should be placed in a sealed envelope and Corrective Services will pay for the postage. Letters to us can be in any language. We can also arrange for translations, interpreters and other services.
More serious complaints - such as allegations of assault by staff or serious maladministration, can be immediately referred to us without going through the internal complaints system. If we receive a complaint we think should have been raised within the correctional system first, we will give the person complaining advice about how to do that.
If an inmate wants to discuss any complaint with us – either about the correctional system or about any other NSW agency they can call us. We are #8 on the freecall list on all inmate phones. Calls to our office are free to the inmate and not monitored by correctional staff.
All letters to and from us are confidential and cannot be opened by correctional centre staff. When an inmate gets a letter from us, they will be asked to sign a cover sheet to say it has been received and not opened. This is then placed on their file and acts as their receipt.
Inmates can also make complaints to our staff when we visit their correctional centre. We will interview them in private and try to resolve their problem before we leave the centre. If that’s not possible we will continue to work on their problem back in the office.
The above information applies to all correctional centres, including those managed by private operators at Parklea and Junee.
Offenders who are managed by Community Offender Services (including Probation and Parole) should also try to resolve any problems they have with their local office or district office first. If that fails they can write to the Commissioner of Corrective Services at GPO Box 31 Sydney 2001. If a problem remains unresolved then the complaint can be made to us.
Our staff can give advice about the best way to handle a complaint – offenders in the community can call our office on 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 for advice.
What about health complaints?
Health services in the correctional system are provided by Justice Health – a part of the NSW public health system. If an inmate has a problem with the health services they are receiving in custody they should first talk to the Nursing Unit Manager at the clinic in their centre. Most problems can be resolved at this point. Inmates can also write to the CEO of Justice Health about health care problems. The CEO’s address is PO Box 150 Matraville 2036.
Where a problem about the quality of the health service provider, the decisions made by medical professionals or the type of medication prescribed to them is not resolved by Justice Health then the inmate should contact the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) to see if they can help. The HCCC is a freecall on the inmate telephones. Problems about access to health services, delays and other administrative issues around health care can be raised with us if they can’t be resolved by discussion with the Nursing Unit Manager. See “Contacting the Ombudsman”.
When can't the Ombudsman help?
The Commissioner and centre general managers have wide powers under the law to make many decisions. If they have good reasons for those decisions and have not set out to victimise an inmate, we will not intervene. We can check that they have followed the law and reasonable administrative practice. If they have, they have done nothing wrong - even if the person complaining is still unhappy with the decision.
Matters we can't investigate are generally set out in the Ombudsman Act 1974. These are generally set out in the Ombudsman Act. Some examples of matters relating to the correctional system that we can't investigate include:
- decisions of the parole board and the Serious Offenders Review Council
- the conduct or outcome of court cases
- cases before the Mental Health Review Tribunal or the visiting justice
- solicitors, politicians or ministers of the crown.
What happens with complaints?
Every time someone contacts us - whether it is over the phone, by letter or on a visit – we assess the information they give us to decide whether or not it is a complaint that we need to act on.
Sometimes people's complaints are based on a misunderstanding of the law or the agency’s policies or procedures. If this is the case, we will explain this and why we have decided not to take any further action.
If we need more information – usually from the agency complained about - we will make some initial inquiries by telephone or letter. In some cases we may visit the centre and talk to the general manager. Often once we have made these inquiries we can either have the problem fixed, or provide the person making the complaint with more information and a better understanding about why something has or has not happened. We will write and tell the complainant about this. If the complaint is not satisfactorily explained or resolved, a formal investigation may then take place.
If an investigation reveals some form of wrong conduct, we will recommend action to solve the problem. The complainant will always be told of the result of our investigation and the reasons for our decisions.
We cannot force an agency to comply with our recommendations, but most agencies do accept them. If they don't, we can make a report to Parliament.
Can someone be victimised for making a complaint?
It is a criminal offence to victimise someone for complaining to the Ombudsman or for assisting or giving evidence to the Ombudsman. No one can be charged for making a complaint unless they have purposely misled or lied to the Ombudsman. If someone believes they have been victimised for making a complaint to the Ombudsman, they should tell us. We take such allegations very seriously.