NSW jails are set to go cash-free from October this year, when prisoners’ family and friends will be banned from using hard currency, cheques or money orders to make payments at the state’s correctional centres and required to electronic facilities like BPAY or the Australia Post instead.
NSW Corrective Services (CSNW) has touted the move as one of convenience and modernisation, but there is little doubt that the removal of cash from the prison economy will also kill off an obvious potential avenue for corruption transactions at the same time.
Posting money to prisoners will forbidden months before the changeover, from August 11, when the new banking rules for ‘buy-ups’ start to bite.
Buy-ups are an integral part of the prison system of privileges and punishments where inmates are allowed to purchase comforts ranging from biscuits to televisions with money that is often externally provided to them.
NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said the state’s prison system was phasing out cash, cheques and money orders at its prisons in favour of electronic banking by phone or internet.
“Up until now, families and friends have had to visit our prisons to deposit money into an inmate’s (trust) account,” Mr Severin said.
“Inmates rely on these transactions to purchase food, toiletries, magazines, newspapers and telephone credits for calls that keep them in contact with their family and friends while in custody.”
But before making a BPAY payment, a prisoner’s family and friends first need a Visitor Index Number and a CSNSW Report to get a customer reference number for BPAY.
Under the new rules a maximum of $100 is allowed per transaction and a prisoner cannot receive more than $600 each month.
Inmates can receive a monthly statement showing their transactions and account balance and they are given any money left in their account when they are released.
However, BPAY or Australia Post will not alert an inmate if deposits go over the monthly limit and anything over the limit must be returned to the depositor.
Corrective Services says that inmates must “maintain contact with depositors to ensure deposits remain within the monthly limit”.
However there some limited exceptions where larger amounts of money are allowed, for example deposits to cover bail; distance education fees and textbooks; or the cost of a private escort to attend external medical or dental appointments, tribunals and civil court proceedings.
The larger transactions must also be preapproved by the centre’s general manager and can only be paid at a correctional centre or by posting a cheque or money order, not electronically.
Craig Baird from the Prisoners Aid Association of NSW, which supports prisoners and their families during and after incarceration, welcomed the move.
“Allowing visitors to deposit money into inmates’ accounts is positive, particularly if their family is a long way away from where the jail is. It’s a lot more convenient,” Mr Baird said.
Mr Baird downplayed the possibility that the new system could be open to abuse.
“I can’t see how because they have got to be an authorised visitor, and show identification, and then be allocated a visitor number to be able to deposit money. It doesn’t allow people to put in large amounts of money into inmates’ accounts for nefarious reasons,” he said.
Not having cash in jails may cause some issues for prisoners’ family and friends if they were uncomfortable with technology, but it was an overwhelmingly positive move, especially since cash and debit cards could be used to deposit money into prisoners’ accounts at Post Offices.
But it’s not all good news for the Prisoners Association which has traditionally helped prisoners needing to make financial transactions like accessing access bank accounts held outside of jails.
In June this year the support group lost its contract to provide banking support for around 4,000 prisoners in NSW when the function was transferred in-house to Inmate Services staff.
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