ALS calls to stop Covid-19 Aboriginal deaths in custody before it’s too late

24 March, 2020

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (‘ALS’) welcomes the Amendments to the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act which will allow for the early and temporary release of vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from prisons and youth detention centres, in a concerted effort to stop the further spread of COVID-19 into the State’s prisons.

The NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman announced today the amendment to ‘prioritise vulnerable offenders and others who pose a low risk to the community for consideration for conditional release.’

ALS Chief Executive Officer Karly Warner commended the Government, saying Aboriginal people who are chronically-ill and incarcerated are increasingly at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“This is a sensible, compassionate move which will not only better protect our mob in custody, but better protect the entire prison population, staff, their families and the community – and free-up critical frontline health resources,” Ms Warner explained.

“The rapid spread of the coronavirus poses a significant risk to people in prison, as we’ve seen recently in the New York correctional system, where 38 cases of COVID-19 doubled in a matter of days.”

“We are extremely concerned about the health and well-being of our vulnerable community members. The young, the old and the sick, many who have pre-existing co-morbidities and Mothers and their babies who are behind bars, are all in danger.”

“That’s why the ALS thanks the Government for listening and acting - allowing for the conditional release of people on home detention.”

“We must act all work together to prevent Aboriginal deaths in custody from COVID-19.”

ALS staff member Makayla Reynolds added: “In 2018, my brother Nathan died from an asthma attack in prison. It took 40 minutes from the first call of help for someone to arrive, despite the pleas and screams of the young men around him. But it was too late for my brother.”

"COVID-19 is a pandemic that will impact everyone. But the most at risk are people like my brother. Aboriginal, chronically ill and incarcerated. My brother, a proud Aboriginal man and loving dad, had a known asthma condition and couldn’t survive the conditions of minimum security prison. How on earth will our people survive a pandemic. They simply won’t. ”

“The pandemic has meant the long-awaited inquest for my brother has been put on hold. While my family wait for closure we will do everything in our power to stop this tragedy happening countless other chronically ill people in prison - Aboriginal mums, dads, kids.”

ALS Media Contact: (02) 9213 4112 / media@alsnswact.org.au 

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