Prison inmates in Victoria will have their sentences cut by a combined total of 487 years after being held under strict lockdown due to COVID-19.
Prisoners have been granted “emergency management days” in return for days where they were locked in their cells – sometimes for 24 hours a day.
Eligible prisoners will have their terms commuted day for a day. On average, terms were cut by 16.4 days per prisoner.
Inmates on remand
Those on remand, awaiting court, will also be given a reduction in days. However, this will only apply if they have a prison sentence handed to them in sentencing. There has been no mention of any compensation for those on remand ultimately found not guilty.
A government spokeswoman told The Age that the reductions were not a right, but a privilege and could be taken away if prisoners misbehaved.
“The safety and security of staff and prisoners is our highest priority and emergency management days are a critical tool to maintaining order and safety during these challenging times,” the spokeswoman said.
“Despite the ongoing challenges and restrictions prisoners are facing, we’ve experienced the lowest levels of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in six years.”
Prisoners could have received up to four days per lockdown day
Under Victorian law, inmates are eligible for four days off their sentence for every day of deprivation. However as the impact of the pandemic was felt by the wider community, the government said it was only providing one for one.
A senior lawyer at the Human Rights Centre, Monique Hurley told the Age that the reductions were a “reasonable first step”.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Andrews government has been subjecting people in prison to punitive practices like protective quarantine and lockdowns, which are too often both code for solitary confinement,” she said.
“Reducing the sentences of people who have been subjected to these practices is a reasonable first step, but the Andrews government must do more to reduce the number of people being subjected to these harmful practices in the first place.”
There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Victoria’s prison system.
New South Wales prisoners offered no compensatory days
While the lockdown in NSW has not been as intense as in Victoria, prisoners in the state have still been subject to strict isolations and have been denied visits for an extended period of time.
The NSW Government passed legislation to enable to the conditional release of some prisoners in order to boost community safety, however, to date no prisoners have been released under these provisions.
The NSW Government has also not offered compensatory days for the isolation measures from earlier in the year, nor have they re-opened visits from family and friends.