VALS is calling for a human rights compliant, health drive response to confirmed COVID-10 cases in detention


Key Facts about the COVID-19 in detention

6 prisons and 2 youth detention centres have gone into lockdown, after staff and people who are detained have tested positive for COVID-19

  • The Government has a responsibility to implement measures to keep everyone safe and healthy, especially the people who are in its care. People in detention are incredibly vulnerable, unable to take steps like the rest of us, such as physically distancing, to protect themselves.

  • Any measures taken and practices adopted in places of detention in an attempt to contain COVID-19 must never amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the Government has an obligation to provide equivalency of medical care to people in detention.

  • Many people come and go from prisons including prison staff, contractors, health professionals,  educators, as well as people who are detained and released, on a daily basis – this means that any detention COVID-19 outbreaks will impact on the rest of the community.

  • The overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal legal system means that they will be disproportionately impacted should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria’s prisons. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, with many people having underlying medical conditions. They should be among those who are prioritised for release from detention.

  • Releasing people from detention is an essential part of a comprehensive and responsible public health strategy.

VALS is calling on the government to immediately release people from detention via

  • Administrative leave on health grounds for those most at risk of COVID-19 and most impacted by restrictive measures – like increased use of solitary confinement – being used to try to contain the virus.
  • Using existing legal powers to grant 14 days early release to people in prison who are close to the end of their sentence. Noting that 25.5% of men and 40.9% of women serve terms of imprisonment that are less than one month.
  • Granting parole or leave to people in prison who pose a low risk to the community if released.
  • Granting parole or leave to children and young people, so that they can be with, and be supported by, their families and community during this ongoing public health emergency; and
  • Making bail more accessible for children, young people and adults on remand, who are yet to be found guilty of any criminal offending and who pose a low risk to the community if released. Around half (46.2%) of ATSI people in prison (and 61.4% of ATSI women) are in prison purely on remand

We also ask for the Government to enact legislation, like in New South Wales, to facilitate the early release of people in prison serving sentence who are identified as particularly vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 and then make use of such legislation to reduce the number of people in our prisons.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 is another means by which the Government can keep some of the most vulnerable people in our community safe – our children.

"We know the news that there are increases in suspected prison COVID-19 cases will distress Aboriginal Communities across Victoria. We encourage our community members who have welfare concerns for a loved one in custody to reach out and notify VALS so we can undertake welfare checks and ensure our mob are feeling safe and receiving the supports and care they are entitled to."
Nerita Waight