On the first of September Greens MP David Shoebridge, Professor of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, Thalia Anthony, Youth Worker Keenan Mundine and Coordinator of Justice Action Brett Collins came together to plea for action in regards to the “inevitable” and potentially “disastrous” crisis of COVID-19 entering the New South Wales Prison System.
Currently, the State Government has not made getting the COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for prison officers and as a result, only 40-50% are fully vaccinated. Similarly, less than 25% of inmates in New South Wales are vaccinated and the Department of Corrective Services has not shared their plans for the vaccine roll out within prisons or how they plan to take care of the Aboriginal population. These figures arrive despite the NSW government understanding as early as March, according to Collins, the risk that COVID-19 poses to the prison population.
The prison population is particularly vulnerable due to overcrowding, lack of ventilation, poor hygiene standards and little capacity for social distancing, to name a few. Shoebridge also noted that a “disturbing” amount of the New South Wales prison population are First Nations Peoples, meaning their vulnerability to the virus is “only exacerbated by being in prison”. Anthony noted that incarcerated peoples are 10x more likely to be infected than the general community.
Solutions to these issues are “two fold” according to Shoebridge who says there should be “no new inmates entering the prison system for non-violent offences” and “the commissioner needs to use the power he was already given to ensure non-violent offenders are existed out of the prison system”.
The “government must accept responsibility”, according to Collins as this poses, not only a risk to the prison population, but to the public at large.