Concerns remain over incarcerated people's wellbeing during the pandemic

In June 2020, NSWCCL raised concerns about the physical safety of people in prison during the pandemic, given the difficulty of social distancing within a prison environment.

While it is reassuring that, to date, the number of COVID-19 cases in custodial settings has been limited, we remain concerned.

Firstly, we have ongoing concerns about inmate safety and the risk of rapid transmission of COVID should it make its way into prisons. For example, it has been reported to us that in a wing of about 200 at Cessnock, there is no social distancing, inmates do not wear masks, inmates remain unvaccinated and jabs have not been offered to some inmates.

Secondly we are concerned in relation to the ongoing impact of ceasing family and legal visits, increased restrictions, reduced access to programs and isolation of inmates. 

For example, an inmate reported to us that he is in custody for drug matters. He was a drug user in the community, and he has not been offered a drug course in the past 14 months. We are deeply concerned in relation to both the inmate’s rehabilitation and community safety if inmates are not being offered appropriate courses, even in a modified form, due to COVID restrictions.

Today, we again wrote to Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW, the NSW Health Minister and the CEO of Justice Health, to raise these concerns.

We asked:

  1. What systems or data collection is in place by NSW Justice Health to monitor the changing needs of inmates in relation to their mental health and wellbeing in response to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic? 
  2. What increases, if any, have there been in relation to the delivery of mental health support? If there have been additional resources allocated, please let us know the nature of the increase and where the resources have been allocated?
  3. How is mental health support being delivered given restrictions to accessing gaols? For example, has there been an increase in resourcing tele-health and if so, by how much, what is the process for access and is this being taken up by inmates?    
  4. Has the delivery of rehabilitation programs been adapted to account for increased restrictions?
  5. Has the capacity for inmates to contact family and friends by way of audio-visual link been substantially increased? 
  6. If an inmate was to test positive and require medical treatment, does Justice Health have capacity to treat COVID patients within a correctional hospital setting or would they be transferred to the community? What are the protocols in place for treating a COVID positive patient?
  7. How many inmates (since this current outbreak and overall) have been released early to parole by the Commissioner under the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 and is the Commissioner currently considering further releases in light of the rapid increase in COVID cases in NSW?

More information: read our letter