Corrections in the COVID-19 recovery
From the outset, experts and advocates agreed that keeping the virus out of the prison system was imperative. As prison officials seek to manage the risk of COVID-19 in the long-term, it’s vital they seek the least restrictive measures to ensure prisoners’ rights are respected.
To manage the risks in closed environments, Corrections Victoria has taken proactive and preventative steps, such as restricting in-person visits and requiring protective quarantine and isolation. For the most part, these measures have successfully prevented COVID-19 from entering Victoria’s prisons.
Nonetheless these measures seriously constrain the rights and freedoms of adults in detention. They were intended to be temporary but have now been in place since 28 March 2020 – and may be in place for some time to come.
We remain concerned about mandatory 14-day quarantine when inmates enter prison – conditions that are, in some ways, akin to solitary confinement – and the impact it may have on prisoners with particular vulnerabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with mental health issues and people living with a disability.
Despite prisons’ best efforts, mandatory quarantine necessarily reduces prisoners’ access to family and other supports. While in 14-day protective quarantine, prisoners have more limited access to in-cell phone calls, video-based visits, books, educational material, printed exercise routines and television.
We encourage prisons to consider less restrictive measures (for example, testing on reception and a shorter period of quarantine) and additional safeguards that might minimise the impacts on prisoners’ rights and wellbeing.
There may also be options for early release of low-risk prisoners – for example, by granting administrative leave on health grounds to those whose life and health is most at risk from COVID-19; using existing legal powers to grant 14 days’ early release to people in prison who are close to the end of their sentence; and granting parole or leave to people in prison who pose a low risk to the community if released, and providing the necessary supports including housing.
A longer-term option is fast-tracking bail reform to make bail more accessible for children, young people and adults on remand who are yet to be found guilty of any criminal offending and who pose a low risk to the community if released.
Foundations for recovery
- Consider less restrictive measures to mandatory 14-day quarantine and additional safeguards to ensure prisoner rights and wellbeing.
- Adopt positive innovations resulting from COVID-19, such as increased access to digital technologies for people in prison, as part of prisons’ business as usual.
- Explore early release and bail reform options to reduce the prison population safely over time.