Some prisoners in New South Wales could be released under new emergency powers announced by Attorney General Mark Speakman on Tuesday.
The powers grant the correction minister the power to release or probation Inmates nearing the end of their terms or being examined on a case-by-case basis.
Corrections NSW will not have the authority to release inmates convicted of serious crimes such as murder, terrorism, or sex offenses, and will in any case “take into account the risks to community security, the protection of victims of domestic violence, and the effects on victims, before being released an inmate. “
“This bill will help empower relevant experts and public bodies to make difficult and quick decisions in the best interest of the community.”
Every state and territory has already banned personal prison visits to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Makayla Reynolds, whose brother Nathan died in custody in 2018 after a severe asthma attack went untreated, said governments urgently need to consider increasing detention at home.
“My brother Nathan died of an asthma attack in prison,” she said. “It took 40 minutes from the first call for help to arrive, despite the requests and screams from the young men around him. But it was too late for my brother.
“People like my brother – Aboriginal people, chronically ill and imprisoned – are most at risk.
“My brother, a proud Aboriginal man and loving father, had a known asthma and could not survive the conditions of a prison with minimal certainty.
“The only way to protect our people in prison is to temporarily release those who are most at risk of dying,” she said.
The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) welcomed the move.
“This is a sensible, compassionate move that not only better protects our mob while in custody, but also better protects the entire prison population, staff, their families, and the community – and frees up critical health resources at the forefront,” said Karly Warner, CEO from ALS.
More than 370 academics, lawyers, attorneys, and former judges published a letter last week warning governments that prisons are “facing an uncontrollable outbreak”.
“We know that Covid-19 spreads quickly in confined spaces and prisons are often epicentres for infectious diseases,” the letter said.
“This is particularly worrying when overcrowding occurs, as most Australian prisons work to over 100% of their design capacity: 77% of those entering and 33% of those detained are in pre-trial detention and 30% are under 12 months in prison .
“If Covid-19 is not treated in the criminal justice system, the epidemic curve will increase dramatically.”
The national umbrella organization for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services said it had met with the federal government, attorneys general and prosecutors to discuss the management of prison populations.
“With overrepresentation of our people in prison, our lives are at stake,” said Cheryl Axelby, president of Natsils.
“We demand immediate early release, especially for people in pre-trial detention, women who are victims of domestic violence and have been convicted of minor crimes such as fines and administrative offenses, young people and those who are most at risk of Covid-19 transmission People and people with health problems.
“At all costs, we must prevent Aboriginal people from taking Covid-19 into custody,” she said.
Governments worldwide are using early release to curb the virus, she said. Ireland planned to release prisoners under 12 months in prison, as well as some US and UK jurisdictions.
“At the moment, our lives depend on having full access to social security networks with no conditions attached.”