Inside Access

Project aims:

  • To increase access to legal advice and representation via outreach legal clinics;
  • To deliver specialist legal education sessions within prisons and forensic hospitals; and
  • 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 and other support services to people with cognitive impairment and mental health issues in correctional 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.

Inside Access provides legal assistance and advocacy to imprisoned people in the following areas.

  • Fines and infringements
  • Centrelink debt
  • Other credit and debt issues
  • Access to health and mental health services
  • Victims Of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) applications
  • Freedom of information applications
  • Guardianship / Administration issues
  • Discrimination
  • Human rights breaches
  • Family Law – Referrals only
  • Intervention Order applications

At present, Inside Access attends the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) every Thursday morning from 9:30am to 12:00pm. The clinic is held in interview rooms in the DPFC Programs Building.

If you or someone you know is currently incarcerated at the DPFC and would like to book an appointment with us, referral forms are available at reception in the programs building. Those not at the DPFC can call our day service line.

Inside Access also provides a community legal education program at DPFC. The education program aims to provide education to prisoners with a mental illness to help them better understand and exercise their rights. Inside Access constantly strives to provide relevant information to prisoners regarding:

  • Access to Healthcare
  • Wills and Estates
  • Mandatory Visa Cancellations
  • Infringements
  • Victims of Crime Compensation (VOCAT)
  • Family Violence and Intervention Orders
  • Housing

Evolution of the project:

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 an increasing prison population, we have increased attendance at DPFC from fortnightly to weekly. In response to the high number of clients who are victims / 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 the 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 an infringements clinic in conjunction with DPFC and Fines Victoria. In response to the number of child cases, we have secured additional philanthropic funding and employed a child protection 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 that our clients feel heard and understood and they do not have to repeat their story, 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 achieving timely, responsive resolutions of civil legal matters and ensuring that women are released with fewer barriers and unresolved civil law issues relating to housing, debt and 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.