Inside Access Project

Project Aims

  1. To increase access to legal advice and representation, via outreach legal clinics;
  2. To deliver specialist legal education sessions within prisons and forensic hospitals; and
  3. To continue to gather evidence based information on systemic concerns and capacity to build the program.

Project Summary

Inside access is a legal service of the Mental Health Legal Centre which provides free civil legal services to people with cognitive impairment and mental health issues in correction and forensic facilities in Victoria. Inside Access seeks to contribute to an improved justice system for people with a mental illness by delivering legal assistance whilst our clients are incarcerated.  Our service aims to ease our clients’ transition into the community upon release.

Annually almost 20% of our clients request legal assistance related to fines and infringements, about 10% related to child matters, with assistance with VOCAT application, credit and debt issues and matters related to property and tenancy matters are key areas. This helps to focus the education program and ensure repetition for those on remand which is important given the changing nature of Dame Phyllis

How has Inside Access evolved?

Embedded evaluation has meant that we continually seek to make sure that the service is as responsive and effective as it can be, this reflects a changing population and changing needs. In response to high levels of service demand and increasing prison population – we have increased attendance at DPFC from fortnightly to weeklyin response to high number of clients who are victim/survivors of current or historical abuse – we have embedded a specialist lawyer to work with victims of crime to apply for compensation. In response to complex and inter-related legal and non-legal needs of our clients – we have developed a multi-disciplinary practitioner approach embedding social workers as part of the team to enable holistic responses. In response to the enormously high levels of fines and debts of our clients – we are developing and managing a Clean Slate service. In response to the number of child cases we have we sought additional philanthropic funding and we are working to employ a child care lawyer. We have improved our in house tracking and work to ensure effective turn around times to try and impact women on remand.

Our clients mental health impacts every facet of their lives before and after being inside. A significant component of successful service delivery is ensuring our clients feel heard and understood and they do not have to repeat it, as well as providing information that is clear and relatable. Each Inside Access client receives a bespoke service and successful outcomes will vary from simple advice or drafting an important letter to successful resolution of a complex legal matter. The core work of Inside Access is focused on timely, responsive resolution of civil legal matters and ensuring that women are released with fewer barriers and unresolved civil law issues related to housing, debt, access to children, all of which will impact on their community rehabilitation. We want to enhance our clients’ opportunities to return to a safe and secure home, and we seek to achieve this through the multi-disciplinary approach of MHLC and collaboration with other key agencies including DPFC.