What can I do to help my family member who is in custody?

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Ophelia HollwayThe article What can I do to help my family member who is in custody? is written by Ophelia Hollway, Senior Associate, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.

Ophelia is currently based at our Melbourne office. She regularly represents clients at Magistrates’ Courts as well as other metropolitan and regional courts of Victoria.

Since becoming a lawyer, Ophelia has worked exclusively on matters related to crime and family violence. She previously worked for Melinda Walker Criminal Law and Victoria Legal Aid handling state and Commonwealth cases, as well as volunteered overseas to assist in the preparation of capital defense cases.

Worried ManYour family member has been arrested and remanded in custody.
You’re undoubtedly feeling worried and somewhat helpless. So what steps can you take to help a family member in custody?

1. Get a good lawyer

This might sound straightforward but sometimes it’s difficult to know which firm to approach.

  • Do your research. Ensure the lawyer or law firm has understanding of the matter your family member is charged with.
  • Criminal law is a very specific area of law, and within that, jury trials are even more specialised. Ensure your lawyer understands and has experience in handling the matter.
  • Seek out their expertise. Is the lawyer a specialist? Are there specialists within the firm?
  • Doogue + George lawyers give you an understanding of your loved one’s legal problem and how we can help sort through it.
  • We provide free initial consultations via Zoom, Skype, Webex, or over the phone.

2. Write down your family member’s life story

  • It’s helpful for us to have an understanding of your loved one’s history in order to better prepare the case.
  • Information to include:
    • Childhood: Described the family environment – i.e. positive or negative? How so? Did anything traumatic happen? E.g. Bullying, death in the family, adoption, foster care, poor parenting.
    • Education: What level of education was achieved? Any learning difficulties in school? E.g. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Intellectual Disability (ID), Dyslexia. This may have required a teacher’s aide.
    • Work history: History of work from first job until present. Have there been any periods of unemployment? What do current or past employers say? E.g. Strong work ethic, reliable. Any positions of authority held? Success at work?
    • Relationships: Ever been in a long-term relationship? Children? Difficulties in relationships? Separation or divorce?
    • Significant life events: Anything that has happened over time that has been traumatic.
    • Drug use:
      • When did drug use start? What age? Which drugs?
      • When did this use increase?
      • Where there other, heavier drugs?
      • Why did the drug use start? E.g. Negative peer group, unemployment, work stress.
    • Alcohol issues:
      • As above.
    • Mental health issues: Ever diagnosed with mental health issue(s)? If so, when and what was the diagnosis? Can materials be provided from previous doctors? Current medications? How do the mental health issues play out? E.g. Behavioural problems, anger/frustration, lack of emotional regulation.
    • Physical health issues: Diagnosed with physical health issues? E.g. Heart condition, diabetes. Current medications?
    • Other: Anything else you think might be important for us to know.

3. Prepare character references

  • Approach other family members to see whether they would be willing to write character references in support of your loved one.
  • What must be included?
    • Date: e.g. 4/5/20
    • Name of person writing the reference: e.g. John Smith
    • Relationship: e.g. Father
    • Contents:
      • You must say that you are aware of the criminal charges your loved one is facing.
      • Include the nature of your relationship (if positive). E.g. “Frank Smith is my son and he has always been a loving, respectful member of the family. More recently, he has helped care for me because of my medical issues by buying groceries and transporting me to doctor’s appointments.”
      • Include whether you’re able to provide your family member with support upon release. E.g. “Whenever Frank is released from custody, he will be welcome at our home.”
    • Signature: Must be signed at the end.

4. Combine paperwork from doctors, mental health case workers, etc.

  • Getting documents together for us to look over is incredibly helpful.
  • We will request this material ourselves, however it is often quicker to access through family members if documents have already been obtained.
  • Another helpful piece of paperwork is certificates. E.g. Qualifications (Building and Construction) and general courses (Road Safety Awareness Course)

5. Organise drug rehabilitation

  • Organising drug rehabilitation can either be done privately or with government-funding.
  • There are often waitlists associated with drug rehabilitation facilities, so it is worth contacting a number of providers in case places are unavailable.

6. Visit your loved one and drop off property

  • To visit a family member in custody, prison visits can be arranged with the prison directly
  • If you’re unsure of which prison your loved one is at, call or email Sentence Calculation and Warrant Administration (SCWA) on:
    • Email: scwa@justice.vic.gov.au
    • Phone: (03) 8684 6552
  • The following website is a fabulous resource in answering prison-related questions: https://www.corrections.vic.gov.au/
  • As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, some prisons are allowing Skype (i.e. video) calls to family members.

If you’re still unsure as to how you can help a family member in custody, call us and we’ll give you further advice.
Date Published: 12 June 2020

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