A prisoner rights organisation has raised concerns about regulations preventing NSW prisoners from receiving original letters and envelopes.

The regulation was introduced as part of a COVID-19 response in 2020 and has prisoners receiving photocopies of letters from their families instead of the original documents.

Prisoner advocacy group Justice Action says they’ve received reports from prisoners that the photocopies are often incomplete, blurry and even sometimes obscured by the hand of a correctional officer.

“The destruction of mail to prisoners in NSW is unprecedented since the penal colony began,” Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins said.

“Letters from spouses, family, children and friends are key for the morale and ongoing mental health of prisoners who suffer isolation and disconnection from society in an inherently violent context.”

“Prisoners are now receiving poorly made photocopies. They are often incomplete so that in many letters only the right-hand side is readable, the letter may be blurry or even obscured by the hand of a correctional officer. Photocopies of letters cannot capture sentimental details such as the scent of perfume, smudge of lipstick or lines in a children’s drawing.”

NIRS spoke confidentially to the family of one person currently incarcerated in a NSW prison. They confirmed the concerns raised by Justice Action and said they had concerns about the impact the measure was having on the mental health of their partner.

They also said their mail was regularly delayed by up to a month – an issue they said they believe is due to the time it takes to process and photocopy inmate mail.

The issue was raised in corrections budget estimates this month by NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson.

Ms Higginson said the system is “failing people.”

Speaking to NIRS, Ms Higginson said the regulation is causing harm to vulnerable people.

“We know that mail is a really personal, fundamental way that people keep in contact with the outside world. It’s about their sanity, it’s about their love, it’s about their intimacy and it’s about their connection.

What we’re seeing is a real systemic flaw in the continuation of that capacity for people to experience those fundamental principles that mail can provide for somebody who is suffering inside a prison system.”

Corrective Services NSW has been contacted for comment.