Grant bail for non-violent offences to help prevent COVID-19 prison outbreak

As coronavirus cases lockdown prisons in Victoria and NSW, governments and courts are again being urged to reduce the number of people in prison.

Today Parklea Correctional Centre in Sydney is in lockdown because an inmate, who on July 26 was refused bail for driving offences, has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Like cruise ships and public housing towers, coronavirus in prisons could spread rapidly and will be hard to stop once it takes hold,” says Mr Greg Barns SC, criminal justice spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“Courts need to take this risk into account and show greater leniency on bail. In the current circumstances, courts should not refuse bail for non-violent offences unless there is demonstratable recent recidivism.

“Health experts all around the world are recommending the responsible release of selected prisoners to reduce over-crowding and enable some physical distancing. This can be achieved by reducing unnecessary admissions and expediting prison release for selected, low risk offenders.

“Prison lockdowns cannot be the solution. Lockdown means solitary confinement and no programs or family visits; an increased risk of mental harm and it creates an increasingly intolerable and unstable environment within the prisons.

“The most effective way to avoid a serious outbreak of COVID-19 in our prison system is to drastically reduce the populations of prisons. Prisoners have the same rights to health and safety as everyone else.

“This move would protect inmates as well as prison staff and the broader community from the devastating impact of a COVID-19 outbreak in a prison.”

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