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Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Prisoners

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face a range of issues when they come into contact with the Australian Criminal Justice System. People from a CALD background, particularly those from a non English speaking background (NESB) are less likely to understand the way the criminal justice system works than those with proficient English skills- this can including lack of awareness of their rights in police questioning, in accessing bail, how to navigate the court system and how to navigate the prison system and rules.

Prisoners from CALD Background

People from non-English speaking backgrounds tend to receive longer sentences and tend to be older than the average Anglo-Australian inmate. People from a non English speaking background are more likely to be imprisoned for a non-violent crime and be serving a sentence for a drug related offence but have no history of drug addiction.1 There may also be a reduced chance of receiving bail if you have temporary visa status, as temporary residents are deemed not to have a permanent address in Australia.

Often the culture shock and linguistic differences on entering the prison system can exacerbate the feeling of alienation while in prison. Language differences make it challenging to follow the prison rules and day to day schedules as well as making it difficult to communicate with corrections staff and other inmates. Limited access to information (formal communication, signage, educational material, newspapers, and magazines) and programs in community languages can increase alienation both from other inmates and from their external community on reintegration. The opportunity to observe cultural or religious rituals may be reduced. Some culturally and linguistically diverse prisoners may lack family networks in Australia to provide support during and after incarceration.

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How many CALD prisoners are in NSW?

It should be noted that to date, imprisonment statistics record only those who were born overseas and those who speak a language other than English at home. Statistics do not account for those who identify as having a culture other than Australian.

On 30 June 2009 in NSW:2

  • 21.8% (2428) of prison inmates were born outside of Australia.
  • 5.3% (595) of people were born in other English speaking countries.
  • 16.4% (1833) of people were born in non-English speaking countries.
  • The top five countries of birth outside Australia in the NSW Prison population are New Zealand (3.2%), Vietnam (3%), Lebanon (1.6%), United Kingdom (1.4%) and China (1%)2

According to the 2009 Inmate Health Survey3:

  • The top five languages spoken at home other than English are Arabic (18%), Chinese (9%), Vietnamese (6%), Spanish (6%) and Italian (5%) and this is reflective of the NSW population (according to the 2006 census). However it should be noted only those with proficient English language skills were eligible to take part in the survey.

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Challenges on Release for CALD Criminal Justice Clients4

As highlighted in About Criminal Justice Clients ex-prisoners face a wide range of challenges reintegrating into the community. These challenges are often exacerbated for people from CALD backgrounds. Ex-prisoners from CALD backgrounds may find it difficult to reintegrate due to:

  • Stigma and shame associated with offending behaviour and/or drug use which is often magnified in CALD communities; and
  • Lack of knowledge - or misinformation - about drug use within the community, and/or the community's attitudes towards people who use drugs.
  • While some ex-prisoners upon release from prison may choose to cut their previous community ties and start afresh elsewhere, those with limited English language skills may lack this alternative.

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A selection of the references used in No Bars along with other related publications can be found on the Research And Publications page.

  1. TAFE Equity and Outreach Unit (2006) Doing Time: A Resource for TAFE NSW Teachers New to Working in Correctional Centre, NSW Dept of Education and Training.
  2. Corben, S. (2010) NSW Inmate Census 2009: Summary of Characteristics, Sydney: Corrective Services NSW
  3. Indig, D. et.al. (2010) 2009 NSW Inmate Health Survey: Key Findings Report. Sydney: Justice Health.
  4. Community restorative Centre, (2010) The Families Handbook, Sydney.

"We are from a small community, and to have a family member in prison is not an accepted thing, it's an absolute taboo"

A family member, CRC The Families Handbook, 2010