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Avoiding a COVID-19 Prison Cluster is a Priority

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Tags: Health, Corrections, Prisons, COVID-19, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Parole

Rosalie Woodruff MP | Greens Health and Corrections spokesperson

The Greens commend the decision to suspend all prison visits, but remain concerned about the potential high risk for coronavirus transmission within the state’s detention centres - and consequently, circulation within the community.

Correctional facilities are by nature very high contact environments. There is a strong epidemiological argument for vulnerable and low-risk prisoners to be released, both for their own sake and for the safety of the broader community.

Risdon Prison is over capacity, with cells regularly double or triple bunked. In this setting, coronavirus would spread like wildfire, and could cross into the community through prisons staff.

The Greens have written twice to the Minister for Corrections to encourage her follow the lead of other jurisdictions already acting preemptively to limit a cluster of COVID-19 cases in and around detention centres.

Yesterday we also wrote to the Director of Public Health in similar terms, seeking his advice about correctional facilities and Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

New South Wales followed the lead of many US states in addressing this potential public health disaster. 

Inmates are assessed as at greater risk of COVID-19 because of a pre-existing condition or vulnerability, be deemed a low risk to community safety, have accommodation to go to, and must not be the subject of a family violence offence. Those low-risk prisoners are released on parole and are subject to strict parole conditions. 

This applies to low-risk prisoners who are not serving sentences for murder, terrorism, serious sex offences, are not an escape risk, and have less than 12 months to serve. 

We urge the State Government to follow New South Wales' lead. Corrections must be able to grant parole to inmates where reasonably necessary to protect public health or for the good order of a prison from COVID-19.

Tasmania must begin the process of releasing elderly, vulnerable, and low-risk inmates now, to avoid a coronavirus outbreak in a detention centre and its transfer across into the broader community.