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Friday, May 14, 2021

Further calls for prisons to release vulnerable detainees

A group of criminal justice experts have again called on governments around the country to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons and youth detention centres.

In their second open letter in as many months, more than 400 experts and organisations called on governments to implement five recommendations, including treating the limited release of Indigenous people as a top priority.

“Governments should release Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from prisons and youth detention, due to our high vulnerability to the severe and critical impacts of COVID-19,” said Nerita Waight, signatory to the letter and co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.

The letter also calls for:

  • testing and the provision of personal protective equipment to be implemented in all prisons and youth detention centres;
  • hospitalisation of any person in a prison, youth detention centre or police custody who has symptoms;
  • ongoing and publicly available information on the measures being implemented within prisons; and
  • independent monitoring by health and criminal justice experts of responses across prisons and youth detention centres.

There are also calls to prioritise the release of other vulnerable groups, including the elderly, those with additional health issues, women, children, those serving sentences of less than six months or with six months left remaining, and those who are unsentenced.

The Australian National University’s Professor Lorana Bartels said there was “little transparency” about how COVID-19 is being managed within prisons and detention centres.

“Families and advocates for adults and young people in correctional facilities have been shut out, adding to the tensions among prisoners. Current practices are placing the lives of prisoners and prison staff at risk,” she said.

A spokesperson from the ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate said the virus marks an “unprecedented challenge” for the ACT, and the directorate was aware the NSW Parliament was currently considering the issue.

“This proposal will be considered as part of ongoing efforts to ensuring the safety of detainees and staff at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.”

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