People Are Calling On The NSW Government To Do More To Protect Inmates From Prison Outbreaks

"The NSW Government must take urgent action to protect people in prisons from the virus."


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Legal advocates are calling for low-risk prisoners in NSW to be immediately released as a COVID protection measure, after Delta outbreaks swept through two state correctional centres this week.

“The COVID virus doesn’t stop at prison walls, in fact it thrives in places where many people are forced to live in confined, unhygienic spaces — places like prisons,” said senior solicitor George Newhouse in a statement.

Physical distancing is near to impossible when prisons are overcrowded, while round-the-clock hygiene measures are dictated by officers and not as frequent as they should be. Limited access to education resources, rehab programs, and currently suspended visitations from loved ones are also a high concern, affecting prisoner mental health during the state’s second lockdown.

Currently, Bathurst prison is in a precautionary lockdown after an inmate tested positive during his admission process. Further east, four inmates tested positive on Tuesday at Silverwater jail.

Lawyers are asking the state government and courts to kickstart legislation passed last year to slice down imprisonment rates and halt unnecessary admissions right now, as well as letting current inmates out earlier.

“Courts need to take the risk of infection in prison into account, and show greater leniency with regard to bail,” Barrister Greg Barns said through the Lawyers Alliance. “In the current circumstances, courts should not refuse bail for non-violent offences unless there has been demonstrable recent recidivism”.

NSW prisons still have a shocking overrepresentation of Indigenous inmates. The latest stats show that as of March, one in four prisoners in the state are First Nations, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are at a higher risk of public health emergencies like the pandemic. Indigenous community and justice group Deadly Connections also fear that extended bouts of solitary confinement and isolation in cells in alignment with social distancing might precipitate additional deaths in custody.

“Before we see a humanitarian crisis unfold in Australia’s prisons, the NSW Government must take urgent action to protect people in prisons from the virus,” Newhouse said.