Desperate times call for desperate measures in prisons

Image credit: Michael Coghlan, Flickr.

Image credit: Michael Coghlan, Flickr.

Hundreds of criminal justice experts have written to Australian governments, calling for drastic and unprecedented measures to avert a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and youth detention centres around the country.

The recommendations build on their first open letter last month, which has prompted initial and planned reforms to the criminal justice system in some jurisdictions, including NSW, the ACT and the Northern Territory. 

"Some courts have shown compassion in bail and sentencing applications, but governments need to step up to ensure that prisoners are not unduly exposed to COVID-19." 

Professor Bartels said prisons and detention centres have provided little transparency about how COVID-19 is being managed.  

"Families and advocates for adults and young people in correctional facilities have been shut out, adding to the tensions among prisoners. Current practices are placing the lives of prisoners and prison staff at risk," she said. 

Professor Anthony said Australia lags behind the rest of the world in introducing proactive measures to shield prisons against the worst effects of COVID-19.  

"We have seen deaths in overcrowded prisons in the US and the UK, when immediate action has not been taken to address the coronavirus pandemic. 

"NSW introduced prisoner release legislation last month, which is a promising start, but we’d like to see some improvements to this legislation and other jurisdictions need to step up their response to this rapidly evolving health emergency." 

A copy of the open letter and signatures is available here:

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