VIC emergency plans for prisoners are inhumane Bill needs careful scrutiny: ALA
22nd Apr 2020
Careful scrutiny of the Victorian COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 is needed as the scope is broad and the powers are significant, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“We recognise that the government needs to take emergency action to manage the current health crisis and we support many of the measures proposed in the Bill,” said Mr Jeremy King, Victorian State President, ALA. “However, the powers the Bill allows are broad and need careful oversight.
“We are particularly pleased to see assistance for vulnerable workers including in the Bill. The plan to extend workers compensation payments by up to an additional six months for long-term injured workers who are unable to return to work due to the impacts of COVID-19 will provide critical support to families who desperately need it.
"However, plans to increase the use of isolation in Victorian prisons in response to the health crisis are deeply concerning. The proposed new laws will impose detention conditions that amount to full-time lockdown and isolation for some prisoners.
“The isolation and solitary confinement of prisoners and young people in detention, particularly those who are vulnerable to serious illness, is inhumane and may be unlawful under international law.”
The ALA has written to the Victorian Attorney General expressing concern regarding clauses in the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 that allow for the isolation of young people, mandatory quarantine for prisoners entering prison and changes to the restriction of movement and placement of prisoners.
“The more appropriate response to manage the risk of COVID-19 in prisons is to urgently release as many non-violent remandees as possible into the community on bail, and release older non-violent prisoners, young offenders serving time for minor offences and others who have poor physical health into home detention arrangements,” said Mr King.
“Several other countries, and other states in Australia, have passed legislation to allow for the release of non-violent, at risk prisoners and we are disappointed that the Victorian government has not adopted these recommendations.
The European Court of Human Rights has stated that solitary confinement ‘can destroy personality and constitute a form of inhuman treatment which cannot be justified by the requirements of security or any other reason’.
“There are better ways to manage the risks of COVID-19 in prisons and the use of solitary confinement must be avoided,” said Mr King.