There is mounting concern about the risks of COVID19 to prisoners and prison staff across Australia. Public health officials and the WHO have identified prisoners as especially vulnerable to the virus, and prisons as likely vectors of the virus into the community.
Despite vigorous advocacy intended to reduce prison numbers, across Australia prison numbers remain high.
Australia is out of step with European nations that have substantially reduced prison populations through early release mechanisms and restrictions on new custodial sentences.
While legislation has been introduced in NSW to give the Commissioner of Corrective Services the power to release eligible prisoners to parole, to date no one has been released under those provisions. There has been a modest reduction in the number of prisoners in NSW, with delays in court hearings, due to new arrangements in response to COVID19, seeing fewer people being remanded in custody. However, when restrictions on court hearings begin to be lifted, prison numbers may again rise, exacerbating the COVID19 infections risks.
Centre member, Professor Eileen Baldry, has analysed the likely impact of COVID19 on prisoners and communities.
The Bugmy Bar Book special chapter on COVID19 has an extensive list of resources on this topic.