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NSW Government must act immediately to prevent COVID-19 deaths in custody

31 July 2020

e Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (‘ALS’) is deeply concerned at reports of COVID-19  in NSW prisons, with a number of prisons currently in lockdown amidst rising concerns of community transition . 
From the outset of this global pandemic, the ALS, families who have had loved ones die in custody, advocates and more than 18,0000 supporters have been calling on Governments to #CleanOutPrisons and immediately release vulnerable imprisoned people due to the risk of COVID-19. 
We know that prisons are a tinderbox for COVID-19 – and that once the pandemic enters a prison, it risks spreading throughout like a wildfire. Overcrowded prisons and youth detention centres will not be able to cope with the spread of this lethal virusPrison officers are not trained nurses and cannot provide the medical care people with symptoms need. 
And we know that our communities are most at risk. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system due to the ongoing impacts of colonisation and systemic racism.  And Aboriginal people in custody are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, due to high rates of chronic illness and other underlying health issues. 
We at the ALS hold grave fears for the health of our people in custody, and the broader community. 
In the United States, we’ve seen that nine of the ten largest known clusters of COVID-19 are inside prisons and custodial settings. The NSW Government must act immediately to ensure the same public health disaster does not occur here. 
We reiterate our calls for the NSW Government to immediately: 

  • Provide for the early release of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and young people or the transition of some people in prison to home detention.  
  • Allow all children and young people on remand to return to their homes and communities, given the life-long impact and harm we know that lockdowns can have on young people. 
  • Provide appropriate medical treatment, including testing and hospitalisation, for all imprisoned Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peopleIf any symptoms, their families and the ALS’ Custody Notification Services must also be immediately notified. 

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