COVID-19: Release non-violent prisoners in WA to avoid health catastrophe in prisons

26th Mar 2020

The WA government must release selected prisoners to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 catastrophe in the state’s prisons, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“The risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a prison or detention centre is extremely serious,” said Mr Tom Percy QC, spokesperson for the ALA. “An outbreak of the virus in a WA prison would be a catastrophe, not just for the inmates and the prison staff, but for the broader community.

“People in prison are at extreme risk of contracting the virus simply because they are detained. In our overcrowded prison system, social distancing is impossible.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released new guidelines yesterday outlining how to manage the risk of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention which highlights the challenges of infection control in such environments.

“In WA, consideration should be given to releasing all fine defaulters immediately and remand prisoners on minor offences who can't meet their current bail conditions,” said Mr Percy QC.   “In addition, all non-violent offenders, white-collar offenders and young first offenders serving time for minor offences.

“Older prisoners and others with health conditions should also be considered for early release into home detention, depending on the nature of their offence.

 “This move would protect inmates, prison staff and the broader community from the devastating affects of a COVID-19 outbreak in a prison.

 “These are extraordinary times and WA prisons must adapt to make protecting public health the first priority. 

“A failure to release select prisoners will result in deaths, serious harm and an increasingly intolerable environment for prisoners.”

Tags: Western Australia Criminal justice Prisons