Four inmates at Silverwater jail in Sydney’s west have tested positive to COVID-19.
The inmates had just entered custody and were in the jail’s remand and reception area.
The prison has been routinely testing all new inmates for the virus when they arrive. The prison then places the inmates in quarantine for 14 days before moving them into the general population of the prison.
Staff who were exposed to the inmates are isolating until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.
This news is off the back of a Bathurst prisoner testing positive after his release from custody.
“It’s really a bomb going off”
The idea of a COVID-19 outbreak in our state’s prisons sends shock waves to families and friends of those inside.
Justice Action co-ordinator Brett Collins told the ABC that he has deep concerns about the state’s prisons.
“The moment that the infection gets inside any of the prisons it’s really a bomb going off,” he warned.
Mr Collins said social distancing in a prison was almost impossible for inmates. He says there are two to three people in a cell “the size of an average bathroom”.
Mr Collins has urged the State to consider deploying rapid testing kits as a priority.
“Even if it’s not a perfect result, [to have a result which] happens immediately, I think that’s absolutely essential,” he said.
A need to reduce capacity in prisons
Prisoners are highly susceptible to an outbreak due to the tight quarters they are in.
In August last year, the USA reported that over 85,000 prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19, with at least 805 deaths. According to the New York Times, that number could now be higher than 2,700.
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.
Australia must release low-risk offenders
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.
Prisoners are already suffering punishment in the form of incarceration. 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 have 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 are already experiencing 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.