The crucial and high-risk job of cleaning prisons to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak should be undertaken by professional cleaning staff, who have access to PPE

MEDIA RELEASE 10 August 2020

VALS is highly concerned by reports that people detained in prison are undertaking the high-risk work of cleaning common areas of prisons; that they have been ‘skilled up as part of the fight to prevent a widespread outbreak’ in detention. VALS supports people in prisons being provided training and acquiring skills that can aid in their rehabilitation and assist them to secure employment upon release, but is of the firm view that cleaning prisons should be undertaken by professional cleaning staff, with appropriate measures being put in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission between cleaning staff, people who are detained and the wider community. VALS’ concerns are compounded by reports that detained people are being paid small amounts of money to undertake this hazardous work.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that thorough cleaning is a measure undertaken as part of ‘Corrections Victoria’s ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) management plan, and consistent with existing advice from the Department of Health and Human Services.’ Although VALS understands that deep cleaning of areas such as quarantine is being carried out by professionals, it does not consider it appropriate for detained people to undertake the crucial, but high risk, work of cleaning any part of the prison in the midst of a pandemic, in the middle of a declared State of Disaster.

 

The Australian Government Department of Health, with the endorsement of the Infection Control Expert Group,  recommends that in health and residential care facilities, cleaning staff ‘should wear impermeable disposable gloves and a surgical mask plus eye protection or a face shield while cleaning.’ The Communicable Diseases Network Australia Guidelines recommend that detention cleaning staff ‘wear appropriate PPE, including impermeable disposable gloves and a surgical mask, gown or apron, eye protection or a face shield while cleaning.’ WHO Europe recommends that in places of detention, ‘prison staff (including cleaning personnel) receive training on environmental prevention measures, including cleaning and disinfection.’ It remains unclear whether these rigorous standards are being met during cleaning, particularly in the context of detained people having poor access to PPE during their transportation.

 

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

Experts internationally and domestically have repeatedly emphasised the high risk of COVID-19 spreading like wildfire in detention. Although the risk can only be adequately mitigated by releasing people from detention and curbing admissions, to allow for physical distancing in detention, maintaining exceptional cleaning and hygiene practices is an essential component of any prevention plan.

 

I urge the Government to engage professional cleaning staff to clean all parts of Victoria’s prisons, not only those deemed to be the highest risk areas. The Government, in its attempts to protect the community, has announced that staff at meatworks are required to wear full PPE, and protections for people cleaning prisons should be comparable.

 

Inadequately remunerating detained people, many of whom have underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying should they contract COVID-19, to clean prisons is a highly inappropriate practice. Unfortunately it appears that the Government has prioritised saving costs over saving lives – at least the lives of the people who are incarcerated. 

 

Yesterday, we celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and I ask the Government to demonstrate its commitment to preventing more Aboriginal deaths in custody by ensuring robust hygiene and cleaning practices, and not unnecessarily putting the people in its care in harm’s way.

                                                                                                                   Contact: Andreea Lachsz

alachsz@vals.org.au

 

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.