International Computers in Cells Conference April 2024
Finland Developments 2023

Music in Prisons

Art in Prisons

NSW Budget Estimates Committee on Counter Terrorism & Corrections



Computers have had a profound impact on society. The benefits of computers in cells with managed internet access would be especially valuable to prisoners because of their physical isolation. Such technology would provide safe and efficient access to online counselling, education, legal services, and communication.


However, the digital age has bypassed prisoners leaving them even more disadvantaged. Printed correspondence, courses, and letters have been replaced by websites and emails for the general population. This change has ended prisoners’ access to distance education. Prison administrators have not responded as they are primarily security conscious and suspicious of new technology. Additionally, governments do not want to appear soft on prisoners. This has caused a deep digital divide, despite the obvious new opportunity for the delivery of services. 

Computers in cells would safely use the 18 hours spent locked in daily. They would provide online counselling through trusted external providers which has proven to be even more effective than in-person counselling. They would allow for the stability of providers through the sentence and after release as well as encourage self-management. Equally, education and legal access would be available.

In 2017 a compelling argument was presented in NSW, showing that denying such access was damaging to the outside community. It centred around the non-delivery of domestic violence counselling, resulting in the cost of 500 women and children being brutalised and $110m being lost each year. The Government had its State Plan focus on domestic violence but was not delivering services. All judicial and political decision-makers received a personal letter and the media was informed. 


A provider quoted that for each large prison it would cost $230,000 to install a server with security software and $120,000 a year to service the system. Finally, the Government committed itself in 2017 to the project, creating a world-first with phone and whitelisted website access to maximum security prisoners in their cells. 



The key to success was not to show compassion for prisoners, but to prove the damage suffered by the outside community due to not delivering existing services. 


The NSW Government had already committed itself through its State Plan to significantly reduce domestic violence in the community. But the most serious offenders in prison received no counselling. Additionally, the 20,000 prisoners returning home each year to displaced partners and children needed to discard the violent prison culture and learn new social skills to cope with the tensions. The domestic violence industry was consulted carefully on what effect could be proven.


The opportunity to make the argument followed a public uproar about a life-sentenced prisoner having access to rehabilitation services. It arose out of the outrage of a victim expressed to the media in 2015.  A Parliamentary Inquiry considered whether to remove all counselling from life-sentenced prisoners, but no organisations supported that position. Victims’ organisations and lifers themselves were all involved in giving evidence. A compelling argument was offered showing it was in everyone’s interest and a human right to receive support.  


During the hearings on 23/11/2015, an offer was made to deliver free online counselling with a victims’ group, to all prisoners in a major prison for a 3-month trial. Corrective Services NSW responded on 14/01/2016 saying “Corrective Services NSW considers an online counselling service would not be appropriate without adequate support and engagement with mental health staff.”


The Minister was readdressed on 02/02/2016 exposing the government’s own experts’ criticism of their failure to deliver services and the significant effect on public safety.


The CJC published “Domestic Violence Prevention: Online services for prisoners” with details of the costs and benefits involved.


They also sent out a media release on 20/04/2017. Media interest followed.

The CJC then published Counting the Cost of Inaction: Failure to Deliver Prisoner Domestic Violence Counselling on 17/07/2017, which presented the costs to the NSW public of not offering online counselling. It was sent out with a media release.

The CJC visited the ACT prison on 31/07/2017 where computers had been in cells with limited internet access for nine years and issued the ACT Report

The president of the Community Justice Coalition, the Hon John Dowd AO KC, together with the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC, wrote a personal letter on 02/08/2017 to all MPs and judges following the rejection.  

They stated that the counselling services provided by CSNSW were of no value to prisoners due to the conflict of interest of the counsellors employed by the prison system also being involved in decision-making. 

Later that year, the CSNSW agreed to the implementation of Computers in Cells. A celebration – (YouTube) followed on 24/11/2017.

CSNSW responded officially on 03/01/2018 stating: 

“Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) supports increasing inmate access to computers and has satisfied itself of the benefits of controlled access to digital devices in cells. CSNSW has adopted a cautious and incremental approach to introducing computers to cells…. CSNSW however is supportive of inmates accessing a range of appropriate services from internal and external service providers and is committed to exploring innovative options in digital technologies to support the future needs of inmates in NSW. Evidence for the usefulness of on line counselling in the community context is encouraging and this will be explored further when in cell digital solution have been bedded down”.

The COVID pandemic stopped physical visits, but they were replaced by video calls from computer tablets in the visiting areas. This normalised the use of computer tablets, so prison administrators accepted them into cells without resistance. See media coverage from 10/03/2020. 

Costs were carefully examined. A supplier offered specialised jail laptops with clear casings for $US165 a unit. An internet provider has offered sufficient bandwidth for unlimited video/audio calls and data for a 600-person prison – 300MBps – for $1 a month per prisoner.  A provider quoted that for each large prison it would cost $230,000 to install a server with security software and $120,000 a year to service the system. 

An evaluation of the benefits has been designed.


Communication with the outside world is essential for rehabilitation. Currently, prisoners are largely dependent on letters and phone calls as their means of communication. Letters are becoming increasingly outdated as the world moves towards online communication. Prisoners also need to build digital literacy skills to use on their release. All calls and messages are recorded and examinable in the same way as letters were previously subject to inspection and copying. 


Counselling with external providers is essential to give detainees the social skills needed to deal with the disturbances of family and partner relationships in a healthy way. Additionally, it helps them cope with their isolation and prepare for a smoother reintegration into society. 


Computers in cells give access to mainstream mental health services already paid for by the government, using the import model. As shown in the Cost of Inaction paper, domestic violence counselling would prevent 500 women and children from being brutalised and save $110m a year. It is also a real opportunity to implement new education strategies and introduce behavioural change material. 


Computers in cells safely use the 18 hours prisoners spend in isolation. They provide online counselling through trusted external providers, proven to be even more effective than in-person counselling. They allow for the stability of providers through the sentence and after release as well as encourage self-management. 



The courts have stated that prisoners must have the ability to access resources that assist in preparing their defence and exercising their right to a fair hearing. They need to have access to computers, as a tool to access evidence, a source of legal knowledge and a way to present their arguments to the courts. People in prison are often left unable to access documents or use their time to prepare for their defence. They are often unable to access legal advice and representation, or they want to control their defence. See analysis of rights 02022017. link

Tony Liristis was unable to prepare important case documents due to his lack of computer access. This led to his court date being vacated twice, lengthening his stay in prison. Mr. Liristis was supported to request that CSNSW to recognise a prisoner’s right to legal resources. However, the Commissioner said “CSNSW does not permit inmate access to the Internet.” 

A media release was presented stating, “CSNSW has failed its obligation for legal custody, reducing prisoners to 19th century conditions due to its own technophobia.” A groundbreaking decision in Liristis v. State of NSW successfully granted him access to a laptop and printer/scanner to prepare his case whilst in custody.


Prisoners, teachers, service providers, governments and enforcement agencies all agree on the need for education within the prison system. They recognise that education is instrumental in the successful rehabilitation of prisoners, contributing to a 43% reduction in recidivism.

Education improves the well-being of prisoners and provides a positive outlet during their isolation to prepare for their release. It reduces self-destructive behaviour and substance abuse to ‘pass the time’. See research. 



Music programs require participants to step outside of their comfort zones, demonstrate dedication, bravery, empathy, and respect. It provides them with skills and helps them connect to their community. These personal developments help inmates to transition back into society more easily. The skills learned from the Arts programs in prison also helped them achieve their goals once they were released.

The success of music in cells through creative programs has made a positive impact on inmates. Life in prison can be extremely hard but it is important to be reminded that prisoners are still human and rehabilitation and reformation is still possible for those behind bars. Paper here.


The entitlement of prisoners to have private time, which they can use as they want, dates back to the establishment of the penal colony in Australia. They could use that time to tend a garden and sell vegetables. They could profit from their personal work, unlike the status of slaves. 


The digital revolution has expanded the opportunities available to prisoners for personal work. Greater access to communication and education in cells, enables prisoners to use their time in a productive and profitable way. It provides a range of benefits not only to the prisoner, but also to victims and the community at large. Full paper here


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