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Greens call for early release of low risk prisoners in Victoria


The Victorian Greens have called on the Andrews Government to reduce overcrowding in prisons by granting an early release to low-risk prisoners, as a way to limit the risk of coronavirus transmission.

 

'Overcrowded prisons with many prisoners double bunking, are well known for their ability to amplify epidemics, and once infection occurs it is far too late.'

Despite the Minister ruling it over the weekend, there is nothing stopping Victoria following the lead set by NSW and legislating the early release of low-risk prisoners when parliament re-sits in the coming weeks.

Prisoners who are at heightened risk of hospitalisation if infected, who are imprisoned for non-violent offences, and who are nearing the end of their sentence should be eligible for early release.

A coronavirus outbreak in a large, crowded prison would be very difficult to control amongst inmates and staff, and many prisoners have underlying health problems increasing their risk of more serious outcomes and hospitalisation.

Victoria’s prison population has doubled over the past decade and now exceeds 8,100 people; seven of the state’s prisons hold more than 500 people.

Current measures by Corrections Victoria to manage the risk of infection are in place, including suspending face-to-face visits.

However, overcrowding means that many prisoners are housed two to a cell, making infection control through isolation extremely difficult, and prisoners are not allowed access to regular items such as alcohol based hand sanitiser.

Law and order politics, including changes to the bail act have meant that more offenders are now being held for short periods of time, often awaiting sentence for minor offences. Over 50 per cent of prisoners are released from prison within three months.

Victorian Greens spokesperson for health, Dr Tim Read, said that the Government should urgently legislate to allow for the limited release of low-risk un-sentenced prisoners on bail, or sentenced prisoners on parole, based on criteria similar to those just introduced by NSW.

Quotes attributable to Victorian Greens spokesperson for health, Tim Read MP:

“Prisons, like cruise ships, confine a lot of people in a small space.

“Overcrowded prisons with many prisoners double bunking, are well known for their ability to amplify epidemics, and once infection occurs it is far too late.

“The best way to help the prison system reduce the risk it poses to population safety, is to reduce the number of prisoners.”

-- ENDS --

 

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
30 March 2020
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