The law has the responsibility to protect the individual rights of both the victim and the accused. At times this creates conflict, particularly when it is perceived that the rights of the accused are too extensive. The victim plays an important role at the sentencing hearing. Every victim of a crime has the right to make a ‘victim impact statement’ outlining the effects of the crime on the victim and their family. The statement is presented to the court and is seen as a way of making the legal system more accessible to the victims of crime.
Prisoners have perhaps the fewest rights of any group in society—and those they do have are severely regulated and may be arbitrarily removed. In prison, almost every act that most people take for granted is limited by regulations and is closely supervised. Prisoners have no privacy and are essentially treated like children, with the result that many lose all sense of adult responsibility. This can create problems upon release, as society expects former prisoners to once again take on adult responsibilities.
Upon arrival prisoners are stripped, searched and have all clothing and personal belongings seized. They are then given prison clothing and a prisoner number. Most prisoners are allowed one visit per week and these visits are always supervised. All gifts are searched and a senior officer decides whether the gift is given to the prisoner or returned to the sender. These precautions are taken in a bid to stop weapons and especially drugs from entering the prison.
The prison authorities have a duty of care to all prisoners. This includes providing them with adequate food and medical care and also ensuring that they are free from physical violence. In addition, all prisoners have the right to unlimited visits from their legal representatives.
The Felons (Civil Proceedings) Act 1981 (NSW) grants prisoners the right to sue the government for mistreatment. However, they must first convince the court that they have a prima facie case. There is no right to sue prison officers, unless they can be shown to have acted maliciously. Other prisoners may be sued for assault and other crimes. Legal claims are rare, as they are very difficult to prove, although complaints to the Minister for Corrective Services and the Ombudsman are more common.