13 December 2012

Going to work behind bars has enabled a group of University of Queensland law students to gain practical insight into the criminal justice system and a better understanding of those affected by it.

Ten students took part in the Talking Justice Behind Bars (TJBB) program run by the UQ Pro Bono Centre in partnership with the Prisoners’ Legal Service Inc (PLS).

Working with solicitors and community education workers from the PLS, the students produced and presented a legal education pack to prisoners detained at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre (AGCC) in Wacol, Queensland.

The packs included information on debt and financial counselling, recent law reforms to bail and criminal procedure and tips for communicating with their lawyers.

UQ Law student Laura Manley described the work as an ‘eye-opening experience.’

“As a team we had the opportunity to research many aspects of the law affecting prisoners and discovered that there is a concerning lack of legal support available for persons on remand; access to justice is certainly limited,” Ms Manley said.

“I became interested in the Talking Justice Behind Bars program because as a matter of principle I believe that it’s an important element of our legal education to have exposure to the people who are affected by the law, in this case the criminal justice system.

“I firmly think it encourages us as students and future legal professionals to recognise the impact of the legal system on individuals.”

The AGCC is the current remand centre for south-east Queensland with a single bed capacity for 890 male prisoners.

During the program the UQ students worked with AGCC bail clerks to learn from their experiences.

“I think it’s safe to say we were all shocked by the amount of prior criminal law knowledge the bail clerks already have,” Ms Manley said.

Law student Gabriel Perry said the hands-on approach of the TJBB program made it a great success, and that prisoners had asked for the program to continue.

“The presentations I was involved in seemed to go down very well with the prisoners,” Mr Perry said.

“They were openly appreciative of our time and efforts in researching issues important to them and personally communicating our findings.

“Their request for the continuation of the TJBB program was gratifying and a sign that we must have been doing things right.”

“I hoped to gain a new perspective on the criminal justice system from people caught up in it and to be of some assistance to a population that generally experiences significant disadvantage.

“The TJBB program delivered on these aspirations and more.”

The Talking Justice Behind Bars program is one of a number of initiatives offered through the UQ Pro Bono Centre’s Roster which matches UQ law students with a variety of organisations that offer free legal advice and services.

Pro bono activities undertaken by students through the Roster do not attract academic credit but provide students with valuable work experience, exposure to legal professionals and an opportunity to volunteer their skills for the benefit of the community.
Media: Monica Taylor, Director, UQ Pro Bono Centre, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland (07) 3365 6192 / 0431 866 344, m.taylor@law.uq.edu.au or Melissa Reynolds, TC Beirne School of Law 07 3365 2523, m.reynolds@law.uq.edu.au