In the USA, 86,639 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 805 prisoners have died.
It’s not surprising that the rate of transmission and death is much higher than the general population. This is due to confined spaces, inadequate health care and a range of other issues related to the US’s obsession with mass incarceration.
The Marshall Project is tracking data on COVID-19 infections in US Prisons by State. In California, the number of prisoners with COVID-19 is 481 per cent higher than the general population. California prisoners are also 89 per cent more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone of the general population.
The American Civil Liberties Union states that COVID-19 could claim the lives of 100,000 more prisoners in the US.
These statistics are haunting.
To combat these numbers, California is aiming to raise its early release numbers
Prison officials in California now say that as many as 17,600 incarcerated men and women are expected to be released early in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.
— The Marshall Project (@MarshallProj) August 7, 2020
Australia must release prisoners
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “widespread community transmission of Covid-19 within a correctional institution is likely to result in a disproportionately high Covid-19 mortality rate”. With Indigenous people disproportionately affected by incarceration in Australia, they will also be unfairly affected by COVID-19.
As of 27 July, there have been COVID-19 cases at the Melbourne Metropolitan remand centre, Ravenhall prison and Malmsbury and Parkville youth detention facilities. Recently, the virus had also infiltrated Parklea Correctional Centre.
Prisoners are already being subjected to punishment in the form of incarceration, and we consider it immoral that prisoners must now also suffer the risk of contracting COVID-19.
A person in the community can self-isolate or avoid contact with others. However, incarcerated individuals are subjected to close living arrangements over which they have little control. These are the perfect conditions which could see the virus spread like wildfire.
Further, prisoners across NSW have already been subjected to heightened stress in recent times due to COVID-19 restrictions. Prisoners have been denied visitors and have had court matters delayed. This is leading to significant frustration amongst those serving time or waiting to have their cases heard. Those on remand or appealing may be innocent, yet are being punished additionally due to the crisis. It could be that their only crime is not being able to have a successful bail application.
Vulnerable prisoners, including children, prisoners in jail for minor offences, and those who have nearly finished their sentences must be released in order to assist in preventing a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 through our prisons.
If you are, or someone you know is, in prison and are faced with exposure to a health hazard such as COVID-19, then please contact us.