Preparing for prison is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you are entering custody for the first time. It is often an extremely stressful time for you and your loved ones.
There is a lot of information here about things to think about before you enter custody, and some tips that have been written by people who have been to prison themselves. Different people have different experiences of first time imprisonment. Things like which prison you go to and whether or not you know anyone in prison can make a difference in terms of how you experience prison for the first time.
Just click on the question to see answers, information, people to call and websites to visit for help.
ON THE INSIDE
> Things to Think About Before Sentencing
It is important to understand that the clothes you wear when going to court for sentencing will be the clothes that you will be wearing into custody. It is a good idea to carry an extra jacket as the cells (court and police) can be very cold. When you arrive at prison, your clothes and other belongings will be stored in a box and returned to you when you are released.
When going to court for sentencing, make sure you have the following with you if you can, as you may need them while you are in custody and will definitely need them when you are released.
If you are in custody on remand and don’t have these items with you, see if anyone you know will be coming to court to support you and if so, ask them to bring these things with them. If you are sentenced to time in prison, they will then be able to hand them to your solicitor to pass on to you.
It is a good idea to make photocopies of everything and leave the copies with someone trustworthy on the outside, just in case anything goes missing.
Important paperwork often includes:
- Bank account details, ATM card and Centrelink number
- Phone/address book with relevant phone numbers, such as your lawyer and family members
- Enough money to make phone calls for the next 10 days.
- Bring the names and phone numbers of your doctors and any prescribed medication you need to take. Bring it in its original packaging with the prescribing doctor’s name and dosage instructions on it and bring your Medicare card with you
- Bring any other important paperwork such as receipts for storage, legal information, etc.
- Take your ID in with you (driver’s licence, birth certificate etc.)
> Are you on medication?
If you are coming up to your sentencing date and you think you will be given a custodial sentence, it is a good idea to take your medication to court with you and a letter from the doctor who prescribes the medication.
This letter should explain
- what medication you are on,
- the amount of medication you are on
- the reason you are on the medication.
You can ask to be put on a Methadone/Buprenorphine program in prison. If you are already on a program, inform staff as soon as you arrive so your dosing can continue in prison. Be aware that it may take several days for staff in a watch house to organise dosing.
If you are being held in the cells and need to see a doctor for a physical or mental health problem, talk to a staff member as soon as possible.
> Smoking and prison
Smoking is now prohibited in NSW prisons, the smoking ban in NSW prisons started in August 2015. Entering the prison system can be a very stressful time and having to quit cigarettes in prison may add to the stress you are already feeling. There are a number of ways to help you quit smoking before you enter prison. You can buy nicotine replacement patches from your local chemist; they cost around the same price as a packet of cigarettes.
Alternatively, you can see your local doctor and they can prescribe medication to help you stop smoking, your doctor can support you through the process.
You can also access the NSW Quitline. To access the NSW Quitline simply dial 137848 (13 QUIT). This call is charged as a local call from a landline; calls made from mobile phones are charged at a higher rate. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can request to talk with a First Nations counsellor from the Quitline.
What the Quitline does: They provide professional counsellors, known as Quitline advisors who help people make individual quitting plans with them. Advisors discuss strategies for managing withdrawals and cravings, offer information about medications and products to assist with quitting, and recommend support services in your local area.
> What if I’m a smoker then enter prison?
There is limited support available to quit smoking while you are on the inside. You can request to speak to a nurse at the Health Centre within your Correctional Centre or you can call the Quitline by dialing MIN PIN 210 # on the phone in your unit for free to talk to someone about getting help to quit smoking. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can request to talk with a First Nations counsellor from the Quitline to get help with quitting the smokes.
Quitline provides professional counsellors, known as Quitline advisors, who help people make individual quitting plans with them. Advisors discuss strategies for managing withdrawals and cravings, offer information about medications and products to assist with quitting, and recommend support services while you are in a Correctional Centre.
Corrective Services was providing people in reception prisons with two weeks of Nicotine Patches upon arrival, however this has now stopped. Instead, nicotine replacement lozenges are available on your weekly buy-up.
> Are you studying?
There are education options in some prisons, although there is no access to online learning which can make continuing studying tricky. It might be possible to organise to have hard copies of course materials approved.
If you have educational qualifications or certificates, it is a good idea to leave them with someone you trust to look after them until you are released.
ON THE OUTSIDE
> What will you do about your house?
- Department of Housing – To avoid debt or losing your house, tell the Department of Housing what is happening and ask what options you have – 24-hr/7-day phone 1800 422 322.
You may be able to pay reduced rent for a short time, or be priority listed when you are released from prison.
If you don’t manage to do this before you go into custody, contact the Prisoners Legal Service from the prison phone (free call from the CADL list which should be on the wall next to the phone) and ask them to help you.
- Community housing – If you are going into prison, you can apply to retain the tenancy for up to six months. However, if Communities and Justice (the new name for Family and Community Services) is reasonably satisfied that the imprisonment will be in excess of six months, they can ask you to relinquish the tenancy immediately. Communities and Justice will consider each case on its merits.
However, if the reason for imprisonment is related to a breach of the tenancy agreement, Communities and Justice will take action to terminate the tenancy. If you have not been released from prison at the end of six months, they will consider an application for recognition as a tenant from a remaining household member, or terminate the tenancy.
- Private Rental – If you rent privately, tell your landlord or real estate agent about your circumstances.
If you end the lease, you can try to get your bond back.
- If you’re buying your home – Talk to your bank about changes to your home loan repayments.
> Do you have children?
If you have children, it is helpful to think about these things:
- Will your children have to move house or change schools? Do you want to discuss the situation with your child’s teacher?
Call the school and ask to speak to your child’s teacher to let them know what is happening. Your child may need extra support and understanding at this time of upheaval and it is helpful for their teacher to know that it may be affect their schoolwork or behaviour.
- What are you going to tell your children?
SHINE for Kids is an organisation that supports children with a parent in prison and can help you think about how to talk to them about what is happening in an honest and sensitive way that they will find most helpful and least distressing. You can call SHINE on (02) 9714 3000
- Do you want your children to visit you while in prison?
Maintaining contact with your children can help them to feel more secure and cope better with having a parent in prison. You can talk to CRC or Shine for Kids about what would work best for your family.
> What about Centrelink?
Corrective Services will notify Centrelink within a couple days that you have entered custody.
If you are receiving Centrelink payments you will be paid up until the time you entered custody. Centrelink in the past sent a cheque to Corrective Services for any money owed to you which was put into your prison trust account- THIS NO LONGER HAPPENS.
Any outstanding money will be paid into the bank account your Centrelink has always been paid into. If you have not been paid your final payment you have 13 weeks to claim your payment after entering custody.
Notify a SAPO (Service and Programs Officer) that you want to make a claim so you can get the paperwork and have it filled in and submitted before the 13-week period expires that you have to claim.
> Utilities (gas, electricity, telephone, internet) need to be paid
If these bills are in your name, contact the company about giving permission to someone else to act on your behalf.
If you don’t have anyone who can take over bill payments for you, it may be best to explain the situation and close your account.
If you have an outstanding bill, it is best to pay this if you can, otherwise the debt will increase while you are in prison and you will be faced with it when you are released.
> How to look after your furniture and household goods
Make a list of what you own and who is storing it. Prisoners Aid NSW can store a small amount of goods for prisoners; they can be contacted to discuss this on 0412 430 214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have goods on hire purchase, get in contact with the company and discuss your options.
> What will you do about vehicles?
- who will look after your vehicle,
- where will it be stored,
- who will be liable for any fines that are incurred by someone else while you are away
- whose name will it be registered in.
If you may be in prison for some time, it can be better to sell your car.