Incarcerated people are at risk as COVID spreads in prisons

Urgent action is required in response to the news of the worsening outbreak of COVID cases in prisons and the tragic death of a NSW youth corrections officer. 

We understand from media reports on 17 September 2021, that more than 40 NSW corrections staff were Covid-positive (not including staff at the privately-run Parklea prison, where the outbreak began) as well as more than 300 inmates across the prison system also testing positive, including 84 First Nations people. 

The risk we flagged in August, of Covid spreading rapidly in prisons, is becoming more likely by the day and it is crucial that all necessary measures be taken immediately to mitigate the risk of this happening. 

Today we wrote again to the Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections, Anthony Roberts. 

We again stressed the risks to incarcerated people, particularly first nations people who are already vulnerable. 

We called for the following action:

  1. Rapid COVID testing should be available within correctional facilities, to ensure that COVID cases are detected and isolated quickly. 
  2. Vaccines should be made available for all prison staff and prisoners and the roll out must be conducted urgently. 
  3. Information about vaccination rates in custody should be made available to the public.
  4. Urgent steps should be taken to ensure that the Commissioner for Corrective Services’ special COVID-19 powers are exercised to release prisoners who are most at risk of having health complications if they contract the virus, as well as offenders who pose a low level of risk. 
  5. Additional mental health resources should be made available to prisoners for the duration of the restrictions.  Access to telehealth and video conferencing with family and friends should be substantially increased.
  6. Quarantine and isolation are health measures, and therefore they should not look like punitive measures resembling solitary confinement. Prisoners should retain access to all resources and services, including educational resources. 
  7. In light of ongoing restrictions, rehabilitation programs must be designed and delivered in COVID safe ways, including programs for drug and alcohol, anger management, domestic violence and sexual offending. The failure to have comprehensive programs rolled out across all gaols, public and private, means that gaol is not only having no rehabilitative impact, but will also inevitably impact community safety when untreated inmates are released.