Prisoners don’t just do “the time”. They are punished over and over again financially. When it comes to managing debts, the system makes it almost impossible.
The problems for people in prison range from having difficulty contacting creditors to stop debts spiralling out of control, to being refused insurance, to small fines adding up to insurmountable debt, to being unable to disconnect utilities, pay mobile phone bills, or cancel a lease on a rental property.
The end result is that all too often, prisoners end their jail term in a much worse financial position than when they entered.
The report also sets out numerous solutions, all of which are achievable. These include adding the National Debt Helpline 1800 number to the list of phone calls that prisoners can make; mandatory financial health checks when people enter prison, making it easier to contact creditors; encouraging better training of staff in creditor hardship teams; and making it easier to find insurance companies that will insure people with a criminal record.
Research points to a high percentage of prisoners who have been victims of childhood sex abuse. Some 60 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate or innumerate, while 60 per cent did not complete Year 10. Other research has estimated that 42 per cent of male prisoners and 33 per cent of female prisoners in Victoria had an acquired brain injury.
Such low levels of literacy, numeracy and general life skills, and high levels of trauma, mean prisoners don’t have the wherewithal to write letters to creditors, fill in appropriate forms, or self-advocate when they have debts to manage. Specialist prison financial counsellors can therefore also play a vital role in helping people navigate the system.
When people receive financial counselling support, information and advocacy during their jail time to stablise their debts, it gives them the best chance of successfully reintegrating into society. It is a win for them and a win for society.
FCA also thanks the many financial counsellors who work with people in prison for their help with the report. We also acknowledge Financial Literacy Australia which provided the funding for the workshops which was the impetus for this report.
You can download the report here.
CONTACT: Fiona Guthrie, CEO – 0402 426 835