5 October 2021

Corrections Victoria have announced that 36 people across five of Victoria’s prisons currently have COVID-19.

Prisons have a similar risk profile to aged care facilities in terms of the potential for uncontrollable outbreaks. That risk exists for both people in prison and the broader Victorian community given the regular movement of staff.

VALS has repeatedly advised the Andrews Government over the last a year to improve the effectiveness of policies for managing COVID outbreaks in Victoria’s prisons.

Our expert advice has been ignored by the Andrews Government.

Reducing the prison population is world’s best practice for managing COVID outbreaks in prisons. Despite this, the Andrews Government has not taken decarceration seriously. Despite the pandemic resulting in a small reduction in the prison population in 2020, the prison population is approximately 20% larger compared to when Daniel Andrews became Premier.

In the last few months, both IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman have issued critical reports regarding the management of Victoria’s prisons. IBAC linked an alarming number of instances of corruption to the billions of dollars spent on increasing the prison population.

VALS calls on the Andrews Government to provide regular, detailed updates about the COVID outbreak in Victoria’s prison, including the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have tested positive. This is particularly important given that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are amongst the most vulnerable  in prison. We need transparency and accountability to ensure there are no preventable deaths in custody..

VALS also notes, with disappointment, that although last year there was timely information about prisons coming in and out of lockdown, that does not happen in the same way.

VALS has also regularly advised the Andrews Government to prioritise a vaccine rollout plan for prisons, including ensuring independent health professionals provide advice to people in prison about vaccines, and there is an appropriate follow up system to ensure people get their second dose if they leave prison after their first dose. We note that Victoria does well in vaccinating people in prison relative to other jurisdictions. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison have much lower rates of vaccination than other people in prison.

In February, VALS published our Building Back Better plan which included a number of recommendations specifically related to managing COVID in prisons. These recommendations related to ensuring solitary confinement was not used to manage COVID outbreaks in prisons, culturally appropriate services were funded and empowered to help during an outbreak in prisons, and prioritising a vaccine rollout plan for prisons.

2021 marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made 339 recommendations, many of which are still not implemented. Preventing more Aboriginal deaths in custody requires a human rights compliant, health driven COVID response in prisons.

Quotes Attributable to Andreea Lachsz, Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy:

“The Andrews Government talks a lot about following expert advice, but they have ignored VALS and experts from across the world about managing outbreaks in Victoria’s prisons.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more vulnerable to COVID and are less likely to get appropriate health care in prison.”

“We want more transparency by Corrections Victoria. When there were outbreaks in other high-risk settings, such as aged care facilities, the public were given much more detail about those outbreaks on a daily basis.”