Book Behind Bars

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council wants to see a lot more books, and a lot less Aboriginal people, behind bars in the State's prison system.

That's the central aim of a new initiative-Books Behind Bars--from the State's peak Aboriginal representative organisation.

NSWALC is backing moves to increase the amount of books and educational materials for inmates in the more than 30 prisons and correctional centres throughout the State as part of an ongoing campaign to improve prison conditions and highlight the increasing incarceration rate.

NSWALC has publicly expressed its concerns about the alarming incidence of Aboriginal people being jailed in NSW, particularly our youth.

Recent reports have shown they are nearly 26 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Aboriginal peers.

Imprisonment rates are increasing but this appears to be due to changes in remand and sentencing procedures rather than increased offending.

The nine-member Council has resolved to continue to highlight these issues through a public awareness and advocacy campaign in coming months, particularly one which highlights successful diversionary programs for our people.

Council had also decided to take practical action now.

It is backing moves by the Australian Prison Foundation to extend its National Prison Book Program into New South Wales.

The Foundation is a Victorian-based not-for-profit organisation which seeks to improve the lives and communities of prisoners in the hope of reducing the likelihood of their return to the prison system.

Research by the Foundation has shown that many prisons cannot keep up with the demand for educational resources and books. 

The Foundation provides free books and educational materials to prisoners and prison libraries in Tasmania, the ACT and South Australia, along with selected facilities in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.

It has recently written to the NSW Government seeking permission to extend its reach into New South Wales.  It has also been looking for organisations in NSW to become collection points for donated books and educational materials.

NSWALC has written to the relevant authorities in NSW in support of the initiative and has nominated its offices across NSW as collection points for books.

It has also provided a special one-off grant of $5,000 to assist the Foundation with its administration costs, particularly those related to transport and promotion of the voluntary scheme.

Council has also allocated a sum of $5,000 to kick off its Books Behind Bars program.

This money will be used to source new and used books destined for the State's correctional services system.

The Library Services section of Corrective Services in NSW has informed NSWALC there is a great demand and need for Aboriginal specific books and educational materials.

Constant requests are received from inmates for Aboriginal specific books and resources.

The NSW Government spends more than a billion dollars a year maintaining its prison system. Its libraries budget is about $200,000 a year.

This equates to about $25 a year for each inmate....less than the cost of one average paperback.

Bev Manton
Chairperson, NSWALC.

April 7, 2010



NSWALC's decision to launch its Books Behind Bars campaign was informed by a number of facts.

They include the following: 

  • A recent report from the Australian Institute of Criminology shows Aboriginal youth in NSW are nearly 26 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous peers. 
  • 4.4 per cent of the State's youth are Aboriginal. They account for 54 per cent of juvenile detainees. 
  • A  report from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows the Indigenous adult imprisonment rate rose by 37 per cent in Australia between 2001 and 2008. 
  • The Report noted the increase in NSW was 48 per cent but, with the possible exception of offences against justice procedures, it noted the increase in the imprisonment rate is not due to increased offending. 
  • There are currently more than 10,000 inmates in full time custody in the 31 prisons and correctional centres across NSW. A new facility being built at Nowra, and scheduled to open in December this year, will accommodate 600 male and female prisoners. 
  • There are eight maximum security facilities, 13 medium security, and 10 minimum security facilities in New South Wales. 
  • Aboriginal men, women and children are over-represented in all of them. 
  • Their ability to access reading and education materials is poor.

Materials Required.

Libraries in prisons have traditionally been a repository for old second hand books.

Corrective Services NSW are trying to change this with a number of innovative programs, including the donations program.

They have particular requirements on donated books and educational materials.

The Library will accept book donations if they are: 

Of interest to users.

  • In good physical condition.
  • Fairly current or, if not, have some historical value.
  • Of a subject not already covered by existing materials in the collection.
  • Already held in the library and are used sufficiently to warrant other copies.

The major collection point for books donated under the Books Behind Bars campaign will be the NSWALC Aboriginal Resource Centre on the ground floor of NSWALC's Parramatta headquarters. Zone offices will also accept donated books and educational materials.

Inquiries about the program can be directed to the Director of Media and Marketing, Chris Graham and/or Resource Centre Co-ordinator Sarah Puckeridge. Both can be reached on 02 9689 4444

Council believes this is a practical initiative worthy of widespread support from across the land rights network and the wider Aboriginal community.