The Government’s decisions are critical to containing the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, youth detention centres

MEDIA RELEASE 21 July 2020

The Government’s decisions over the next few days and weeks are critical to containing the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, youth detention centres and across Victoria

Despite the Government’s efforts, COVID-19 has entered Victoria’s prison and youth detention systems. In the latest, alarming developments, six prisons are now in lockdown, following a prison officer at Ravenhall Correctional Centre testing positive for COVID-19.

While VALS appreciates that the Government is navigating a complex, ongoing and rapidly evolving situation, it has been warned for many months by both Australian and international experts, including health professionals and the World Health Organization, that preventative, evidence-based measures, such as responsibly releasing people from prisons and curbing admissions, must be implemented in anticipation of COVID-19 entering places of detention. This is in recognition of the fact that once COVID-19 enters prisons, it spreads like wildfire, and the fact that people come in and out of prisons on a daily basis – this means that any detention COVID-19 outbreaks will impact on the rest of the community.

With multiple prisons and youth detention facilities now in lockdown, VALS reminds the Government that

it must act urgently to prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody due to COVID-19.

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. The Government’s strategy to keep detained people and detention centre staff safe and healthy must be a human rights compliant, health driven one.

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.

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

“We acknowledge that the Government is facing a crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and we urge the Government to work with civil society organisations, including VALS, public health experts, and medical professionals to keep all of our community safe. And to be clear – the Victorian community includes people who are deprived of their liberty. 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 such as social distancing to protect themselves.

The overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal legal system means that they will be disproportionately impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak in detention. We understand that one of the detained people who has come into contact with the prison officer who has tested positive is Aboriginal. Now is the time for the Government to demonstrate a genuine commitment to ending the ill-treatment and deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, immediately and responsibly releasing people from detention.

For months we have watched the tragedies unfolding in other countries like the USA, where COVID-19 has spread out of control in prison systems and spilled out into the rest of the community, knowing that we faced the same risks here in Victoria. We cannot waste this opportunity, at the expense of people in detention and for all of the Victorian community. The Government has a small, critical window of time to take immediate steps, to release people from prison and children from youth detention, to turn things around and save the lives of people across Victoria.”

Contact: Andreea Lachsz
alachsz@vals.org.au