Greens call for reduction in prison population to reduce spread of coronavirus

Greens spokesperson for Health and Corrective Services Hon Alison Xamon MLC has urged the Government to ensure measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and detention centres are included in the suite of COVID-19 related legislation to go before Parliament next week.

Hon Xamon said the Government had alerted Parliamentarians to a suite of legal reforms relating to coronavirus which would be introduced next week - but as yet the full detail has not been made available.

She said she hoped the legislation would follow the lead of NSW and introduce measures to urgently reduce WA’s prison population.

“We know that infections are likely to spread among prisoners at 100 times the rate of the general population,” Hon Xamon said.

“The World Health Organisation recognises that an outbreak in prisons also threatens staff and people on the outside.”

Hon Xamon said countries such as Spain and Iran had ordered the release of prisoners in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

She said such measures should be considered here for low-risk and vulnerable prisoners incarcerated in both our adult and youth justice systems.

“Typically, more than half the children and young people in Banksia Hill Detention Centre are un-sentenced - and they spend less than a fortnight in the facility before being released.

“They come – and ultimately go back to – towns all over WA – which is extremely concerning as we attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

“Extraordinary powers allowing the release of some prisoners could include home detention, electronic monitoring and a pre-arranged schedule of movements."

Hon Xamon stressed that the Greens did not support the premature release of high-risk or dangerous prisoners.

She said it was important that prisoners who could not be released continue to have contact with friends and family, even as visits have been appropriately suspended.

“The Government must explore ways, including through increased access to phones and skype facilities, in which prisoners, and particularly children and young people, can stay connected to their community,” Ms Xamon said.

Black and white picture of empty prison cell seen through bars. Only the bars are in focus.