COVID Crisis in NSW Prisons Sparks Calls for Inquiry

An inquiry into the running of NSW prisons is being called for by loved ones of inmates within the system, as basic human rights are ignored.

Dozens of family and loved ones of prison inmates currently resident in NSW prisons have spoken out about a culture within the prison system of secrecy, cover-up, failure to communicate and ignoring basic human rights regarding the health and welfare of inmates as the system comes under increasing strain from COVID-19 infection throughout the system.

A COVID-19 super-spreading event that is thought to have begun at the privately run Parklea Correctional Centre has escalated out of control throughout the prison system with multiple prisons now being affected.

Information is being leaked from inside prisons, by inmates to loved ones via limited phone contact that is often terminated by the facility when details of the situation inside are spoken about.

As of Friday 3 September it is alleged that wings 1, 5 and 6 at Parklea Correctional Centre all have a large number of COVID-19 positive cases.

Details have also been leaked from within the Silverwater, Goulburn, Long Bay, Geoffrey Pearce and several other regional NSW correctional facilities with similar reports from each.

Four inmates that were transferred from the Parklea facility to the Geoffrey Pearce facility near Windsor were reportedly placed together in a 4 metre by 4 metre cell. 

Information that has been leaked reveals that inmates are being locked in their cells and only released for ten minutes to shower every few days, and in some cases only once in 6 days.

Contact with loved ones by phone has ceased to be facilitated for many. Loved ones who usually speak to inmates daily, report that they have had no contact for over a week. This is causing anxiety to both inmates and loved ones with a potentially catastrophic impact on long-term mental health outcomes.

Timely updates are not being provided to families of inmates. The family of one inmate who contracted COVID-19 was not notified for almost a week. A mother has also not received any updates in 15 days regarding a serious medical condition her son has. He has reportedly been transferred to a medical facility but requests for updates on his condition have gone unanswered.

Booked video calls have been reported to have been cancelled and when they have taken place reports of inadequate call quality such as audio dropouts have been said to occur. Calls have gone ahead for some and been cancelled for others.

Access to COVID-19 vaccination, COVID-19 testing and even basic protective equipment such as masks has been minimal to non-existent, inmates say.

Masks have failed to be provided for transfer of inmates between facilities. In one instance they were only provided when the inmates demanded them from officers. 

Inmates are reportedly getting angry because transfers from Parklea, while testing negative upon arrival at other facilities, are being put into the general population of the wing without being first quarantined.

Prison officers have been unable to tell inmates when they can be tested or receive their COVID vaccination and this is creating anxiety. One inmate has reported that he has applied multiple times to be vaccinated since June and he still has not received his vaccine. Inmates are regarded as a vulnerable population and are a priority to receive the COVID vaccine.

It is unlikely that calls will be facilitated for many inmates on Father?s Day, 5 September, which will only lead to a further increase in anxiety.

Other issues related to ongoing systemic failures have also been extensively reported, which can only be properly addressed with an inquiry into the running of the NSW prison system, advocates say.  The current COVID situation has just served to highlight the total inadequacy of the system.

Corrective Services NSW was contacted on Friday for comment regarding the number of positive COVID cases throughout the prison system along with the breakdown per facility, but are yet to respond. If they do, an update will be posted.

See also a report from earlier this week.

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