COVID-19: Prisoner’s plea for release
Prisoner’s COVID-19 Court Challenge
Petition for prisoner releases
Open letter to Governments on COVID-19
The United States Establishes Powerful Precedent for Rates of COVID-19 in Prisons
Coronavirus must not enter prisons
Media release Friday March 20, 2020
Justice Action has called upon Attorneys General to prevent COVID-19 entry into prisons. The following email has been distributed to all Australian jurisdictions.
We call upon justice authorities to take immediate action to ensure that coronavirus does not enter Australian prisons in their current state of unpreparedness.
Total disaster is waiting to happen unless authorities are proactive, as once infections happen inside prisons the situation will be much harder to control. Releasing prisoners who are already infected would be much more difficult as often they would have no home and no way to quarantine.
Italy already has 23 prisons rioting. Prisoners in Australia will start to panic, feeling desperate waiting for sickness to overwhelm them. As guards get sick, prisoners will not be let out of cells for exercise or family visits, and riots will happen with a need for police to take over. It will be a dangerous chaotic situation that must be avoided.
Justice Departments in most states have suspended jury trials and hearings. Unprecedented actions are being taken to safeguard health and lives. Other actions are required for those for whom the state has total responsibility.
These actions are necessary now:
- Reduce the number of prisoners
- Ensure no cell is shared to enable social distancing
- Ensure dormitory numbers are reduced to enable social distancing
- Minimise movements between prisons and between wings/pods
- Release people on bail from courts unless serious risk and no other alternative
- Reassess bail conditions for those on remand – around 30% of prisoners
- Release older prisoners unless serious risk and no other alternative
- Release all prisoners with serious health vulnerabilities such as respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, compromised immune systems due to disease or medication or hypertension.
- Prepare sufficient respirators and quarantined beds to service the remaining prisoners
- Install computers into cells with video conferencing to allow family contact, and rehab programs serviced from outside
The high transmission rate of infectious diseases within correctional facilities is well documented. In light of this fact, Justice Action urges a multifaceted approach incorporating justice, public health and compassion to mitigate the risk of COVD-19 to imprisoned individuals.
Immediate action is necessary and warranted. Once the inevitable outbreak within the prison system begins, options for control, alleviation and safety will be severely limited. Ignoring the dire need for structural and procedural changes within Australia’s prison system during this time will likely have a devastating impact on the broader community.
Notably, in China, Italy and Iran, prisons have been a key point of reform in order to control the spread of coronavirus. China has reported at least 806 confirmed cases in five prisons, Italy has seen uprisings in 23 jails resulting in multiple deaths, and Iran has issued the temporary release of over 80,000 prisoners as a preventative measure.
The Australian government should capitalise on the slower spread of COVID-19 and heed the actions of international governments. The imprisoned individuals, and their extended communities, deserve the same stringent healthcare measures and preventative practices afforded to the general public.
Imprisoned Populations’ Vulnerability
The correctional domain holds an inherent increased risk to infectious diseases. This concern arises from two key facts: (1) people in prisons tend to have poorer health, and (2) the nature of prison life is communal – particularly in the context of Australia’s overcrowded prison system.
Individuals incarcerated generally come from disadvantaged backgrounds and tend to have poorer physical and mental health than that of the general public. This, in combination with communal living spaces and insufficient medical staff positions correctional facilities as hot spots for the spread of infectious disease.
Fundamentally, if preventative measures are not initiated, the prison system does not have the structural capabilities to deal with mass outbreak. Consequentially, violence will increase, self-isolation will become synonymous with solitary confinement, and both prisoners and prison staff will become unnecessary casualties of the government’s inaction.
Risk to the Wider Community
In Australia, most people in prison are there for short periods of time, and hence, the concern for inmates’ health is ultimately a concern for public health. Upon release, it would be practically impossible to invoke mandatory self-isolation procedures given that many individuals do not have a stable accommodation to return to. Additionally, the strain on Australia’s healthcare system in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons where preventative measures have not been implemented will be overwhelming. Just as the federal and state governments work together to protect the general public, so too should concern and resources be provided to the prison system in order to create a holistic preventative approach.
Prisons are denied the high standard of infection control given to the general public. In order to combat this, we have accumulated our above concerns into the following three proposals:
- Subject to legitimate proportionate concerns of community safety, the compassionate release of elderly inmates, persons with health vulnerabilities, and prisoners detained for a period of less than two-years is vital.
- This may be conditional temporary release, in which, for example, electronic monitoring can be used.
- Increase of non-custodial punishments such as fines or ICOs in order to minimise congestion and overcrowding.
- By aligning the first and second measure, a key goal would be to achieve single-cell rooming so that prison inmates may be afforded the opportunity to practice social distancing.
- Implementation of mandatory health screening for both staff and visitors.
- It is essential to acknowledge that whilst the goal is to protect against COVID-19 being brought into correctional facilities, the people incarcerated are still entitled to the support of their loved ones and connection with the outside society, both of which are integral to mental health.
We recognise the difficulty of implementing such proposals and acknowledge the political and judicial impacts of such tasks. However, as the spread of COVID-19 to prisons is inevitable, the development and implementation of solutions and preventative measures cannot be postponed for the sake of ease.
Justice Action is lobbying commissioner of NSW Corrective Services to take action to alleviate COVIS-19’s impact on NSW prisons
JA demands the release of inmates with medical conditions during the coronavirus pandemic to reduce their risk if a coronavirus outbreak occurs in prison.
Furthermore, JA demands inamtes by provided with tablets to contact their families remotely, and online counselling services to help them through this difficult time, make particularly so due to the high vulnerability of prisons themselves, and the loss of face-to-face contact with family members.
Read full Letter to Commissioner of NSW Corrective Services here
Consumers Ejected from Prison Health Conference
Media release Sunday June 3rd 2018
“Prisoner representation was ejected on the opening day of a four-day conference about prisoner health at the International Convention Centre, Sydney. Justice Health Chair Chris Puplick and CEO Gary Forrest personally ordered that the consumer representative be taken out as he hadn’t paid $2500 registration to attend. Security staff escorted him out. The expulsion was recorded and is available here” said Justice Action.
“Keynote speaker Justice Michael Kirby was asked whether prisoners and their representatives should have been invited to participate. He responded saying that no HIV conference would be held without people living with HIV being involved”.
“This latest brazen incident shows that the Health Department culture has entirely lost its principles and direction. People in custody have equal rights to health care as others, and have much greater health needs. Their physical and social isolation allows them to be bullied and exploited. The callous disrespect exposed in Lismore Hospital to dying Miriam Merten will continue throughout custodial areas unless the consumer voice is supported and central. We call upon the ministers involved to start the process of change with an open discussion”.
Lawyers are fighting to free high-risk inmate from Victorian prison during coronavirus pandemic
Full source: Virus fears prompt court fight to free Victorian prisoner (The Age; retrieved on 1/5/2020 from COVID-19 Prison Watch, Facebook); Risk of coronavirus outbreak in jail cited in vulnerable prisoner’s bid for temporary release (ABC News; retrieved on 1/5/2020)
Human right lawyers are fighting right now to free an inmate from a Victorian prison, who, due to multiple medical conditions, is at high-risk of contracting the coronavirus should an outbreak occur in the prison.
If successful, this case will set the precedent for more inmates at high-risk to be released during this pandemic.
The inmate could be granted a permit allowing him to be released and stay with his mother.
However, the case is not likely to be an easy one, with strong resistance from the state and its solicitor-general, who insisted that risks of a prison outbreak is low, despite expert opinion that prisons are high-risk hotbeds for the coronavirus.
Experts say prisons are especially vulnerable to an outbreak because inmates and guards work in close quarters, and guards frequently rotate between prisons and the community, thus possibly bringing the virus in. It may only take one asymptomatic/pre-symptomatic person to instigate an outbreak in prisons, according to Emrys Nekvapil, the lawyer in charge of the case.
On World Hepatitis Day the Kirby Institute held a seminar, “Drug Use and Human Rights: The Missing Piece of the Hep C Elimination Puzzle?”.
NSP refused in NSW prisons; legal challenge analysis here
The proposed Needle and Syringe Program at the Andrew Maconochie Centre in the ACT provides a window through which to view attitudes towards prisoners’ health and their right to an equivalent health care system. The fierce objection to its introduction by prison officers highlights Corrections’ approach to prisoners’ health – as one of many competing interests. As progress to introduce an NSP, a tool proven to be highly beneficial to health, is slowed/potentially blocked by prison officers, it raises the question – does prisoner health come second?
As rates of Hepatitis C in correctional facilities reach levels sixty times that of the general population, it is imperative that the role of needle sharing in the spread of blood-borne communicable diseases is recognised and taken seriously. Some form of Needle and Syringe Program must be implemented to ensure that the duty of care that prison authorities owe to prisoners to protect them from foreseeable harm is fulfilled.
Justice Action Research Paper: “Pricking the Bubble Around Prison NSP’s”
Implementation of a Needle and Syringe Program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre
Justice Action Submission regarding the Moore Report
Just Us Article
Justice Action Report: AMC Prisoners’ Consultation
Australian law and international treaty obligations recognize that a person’s capacity to access health services must not be compromised by reason of imprisonment and that all people have a basic right to health. In 1990, the United Nations adopted the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, at its core is the “principle of equivalence” which ascertains that prison health services must be of the same quality and meet the same standards as those of the outside community. As such, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the higher the rates of injected drug use and associated risk behaviours becomes in prisons, the greater the urgency for the introduction of needle and syringe programs becomes.
The National Drug Strategy approaches drug policy from the position of harm minimalisation, including the reduction of demand, supply and harm. Yet the strategies employed in prisons are highly inconsistent with approaches to illicit drug use in the community. The rates of Hep C infection, transmission and the use of shared needles in correctional facilities also serve to highlight these inconsistencies with rates in the wider community.
Prisoners have highlighted the need for the introduction of a NSP to Justice Action for decades as they would prefer to avoid infection rather than undertake expensive post-infection treatment strategies and should have the right to control their own health care. None of the goals of the NDS or the right to adequate healthcare should be lost because a person is incarcerated.
Many countries have established a variety of carefully controlled programs that allow prisoners who inject drugs to access sterile needles. First established in Switzerland in 1992, NSPs have been established in more than 50 prisons in 12 countries in Europe and Central Asia including:
NSPs have also gained great support in Canada and Greece.
A new report commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) has highlighted that the role of Australia’s prisons need far greater levels of accountability and transparency, as well as a much stronger commitment to providing effective programs and treatment for people with drug and alcohol issues if we are to see any change in reoffending rates.
I can speak from first hand experience about the lack of health care within the prison service, albeit from the perspective of the much over populated female estate.
The job of being a prison doctor is hard. Many inmates are drug users or self harmers. They pull fast ones to get legal prescriptions to alleviate the gnawing need for heroin or crack cocaine. They try to get sick notes so they do not have to work. However, not all prisoners are addicts or skivers, yet we are treated as if we are.
The Victory for the Long Bay mental patients time out of cells isn’t over! Campaign report. It went to Parliament for an Urgency Debate on 12/11/08, and we had the majority. But Minister Hatzistergos’ promises were not kept. Media release 2nd Dec Patient statement
- Most inmates are male, as females make up only 6% of the inmate population.
- 19% of male inmates and 32% of female inmates are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, compared with 2% of the general community in NSW.
- 50% of males and 30% of females warrant mental health referral for major depression.
- 40% males and 64% of females are hepatitis C positive.
- 50% of males and 75% of females were unemployed in the six months prior to incarceration.
- 50% have not achieved School Certificate level of education.
- The average age of inmates is 33 years for males and 31 years for females.
Source: Justice Health – 2001 Inmate Health Survey. See: http://www.justicehealth.nsw.gov.au/
The New South Wales Corrections Health Service (CHS) estimates that about 80% of prisoners have been imprisoned for offences related to legal or illegal drug use or committed whilst under their influence.
Drug Use in Prison
Justice Action raises concerns about improper medication and treatments when these arise. Justice Action also supports calls for the use of non-custodial methods of punishment for drug users and the decriminalisation of drugs. In conjunction with the Victorian based Peoples’ Justice Alliance, Justice Action successfully had the International Conference on Penal Abolition (1997) resolve that illegal drugs should be decriminalised.
Further, the national conference made similar resolutions. In Justice Action’s submissions to the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, it was argued that drug law reform would remove the incentive to the endemic police corruption that exists and should be recommended. Further, Justice Action endorsed submissions on this issue by other organisations to the Royal Commission.
The Laws of the Australian Government recognise that a person’s capacity to access health services is not compromised by reason of imprisonment and that all people have a basic right to health. This recognition is evidenced in Australia’s international treaty obligations.
There is little doubt that prisoners are amongst the unhealthiest people in Australia. The New South Wales Corrections Health Service (CHS) estimates that about 80% of prisoners have been imprisoned for offences related to legal or illegal drug use or committed whilst under their influence. 14% of prisoners are indigenous, who although only despite constitute less than 2% of Australia’s population are internationally recognised as living in Third World conditions. 18% of prisoners are of non-English speaking background.
Torture in Light of APEC
Following the recent APEC summit and in light of the recent Prisoner Declaration the world is left wondering where prisoner rights played into APEC.