Release non-violent prisoners to avoid catastrophe of COVID-19 outbreak in prison, says ALA

20th Mar 2020

The government must consider releasing as many non-violent remandees as possible into the community on bail, and release older non-violent prisoners and others who have poor physical health into home detention arrangements, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“This move would protect inmates, prison staff and the broader community from the devastating affects of a COVID-19 outbreak in a prison,” said Mr Greg Barns, national criminal justice spokesperson, ALA.

“The decision announced today to stop personal visits will create even further stress for prisoners, particularly those who rely on family and support visits on a weekly basis. 

“In an over-crowded prison environment, which is the sad reality in every Australian jurisdiction, lack of visits along with the axing of rehabilitation and education programs, will mean an increase in the risk of serious violence and damage to prison infrastructure. 

“Australian governments must immediately do what is happening in the US, UK and other countries and release select prisoners.

“Remand prisoners on minor offences who can’t meet current bail conditions, non-violent offenders and white-collar offenders could all be released into home detention. Consideration should also be given to young offenders serving time for minor drug offences or people over 80 years old, depending on the nature of their offence.

“We are not suggesting persons convicted of murder, manslaughter or any other violent crimes should be released. Nor would we suggest that recidivist offenders, nor anyone who had breached parole or a suspended sentence previously should be released.

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