History of the Nairobi Declaration and Computers in Cells
The Nairobi Declaration enshrines the success of the ‘Computers in Cells’ campaign, which aims to allow detainees access to computers within their cells. Telecommunication access provides detainees with stronger connections to their family, legal counsel, counselling services, and education services. Computers, and other forms of telecommunication, are vital towards the rehabilitation of detainees, especially in an ever more digitalised world, where detainees are left without the basic computer skills they need to get a job once their sentence is served. With everything moving online, counselling and education services, which are heavily linked towards lower recidivism rates, are migrating towards digital platforms. The lack of access to computers and telecommunications within prisons leaves detainees more at risk than ever before.
Despite this, government and prison authorities have been slow to act towards the introduction of telecommunications access in prisons. This is due to a focus on security, and a fear of being perceived by the public as “soft” on prisoners. These views have left prisoners in the dark, despite the clear benefits that access to telecommunications would offer detainees, the prison, and society as a whole. There exists an obvious need for the standardisation and proliferation of telecommunication rights for detainees, which would greatly reduce the social, intellectual, and emotional gaps detainees face upon release.
The successful adoption of the Computers in Cells program in New South Wales, Australia, occurred after a robust campaign led by John Dowd, president of the Community Justice Coalition and former leader of the Liberal Party in NSW. The history of the successful start of Computers in Cells in New South Wales is detailed here at the Community Justice Coalition website. Further successes have been seen in Finland through their own ‘Computers in Cells’ equivalent.
2015 – An Australian Parliamentary inquiry considered whether to remove all counselling from life sentenced prisoners, a position that received no support from any organisations. During a hearing on the 23rd of November 2015, an offer was made to deliver free online counselling with a victims’ group, to all prisoners in a major prison for a 3-month trial.
24 November 2017 – On this day, New South Wales Corrective Services agreed to implement Computers in Cells. This is the first implementation of Computers in Cells anywhere in the world, helping pave the way for future efforts in Computers in Cells cause.
October 2020 – Eight hundred tablets were distributed to detainees in John Morony and Dillwynia Women’s correctional centres. These tablets provided inmates with university courses, news, games, and mediation resources. In addition, computers were provided to detainees at Clarence Correctional Centre.
2021-2022 – In March 2021, Finland implemented the Smart Prison concept, which placed a laptop-style cell terminal in each prison cell at Hämeenlinna prison. Further, the Doris system was instituted during this time. This system oversees one hundred personal cell phones which feature chats, video calls, e-mail, and whitelisted websites.
May 1-5 2023 – The 9th international CURE conference hosted by Pan Africa CURE convened in Nairobi Kenya. This conference saw the participation of representatives from twenty-eight different countries, and most importantly, was the site of the creation of the Nairobi Declaration for Detainee Telecommunications Rights. Learn more about the declaration on our about page.
19 May 2023 – In the United States of America, the state of Minnesota became the fourth state to make phone calls from prison free for detainees, following in the footsteps of Connecticut, Colorado, and California. Read more about this momentous decision here.