The Darwin Correctional Centre at Holtze. There are more than 1,700 inmates in prisons in the NT. (Supplied)
Dozens of low-risk inmates in the Northern Territory could be released from jail to reduce the risk of COVID-19 impacting prison populations, the NT Corrections Commissioner says.
- Prisoners are among those most at risk of serious infection from COVID-19
- Some low-risk inmates could be released early
- Visits from families and non-essential services have been suspended
There are more than 1,700 inmates detained in the Darwin and Alice Springs correctional centres, including many Indigenous Territorians.
The federal Health Department lists people in detention and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as being among several groups considered most at risk from serious infection.
“We are dealing with a virus that’s spreading quickly right across the world,” NT Corrections Commissioner Scott McNairn said.
“So I need to make sure I protect my prisoners, my staff and any visitor that attends the prisons.”
How do I get tested in the NT?
- If you can’t contact or get to your GP, but you have the symptoms, you should call 1800 008 002
- This is a dedicated NT-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) number for people who need to arrange testing only
- If you live in Darwin and need to arrange testing, call the Public Health Unit on 8922 8044
- Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results
- For general advice, Territorians can call 1800 020 080
Latest information from SecureNT website
Several other Australian jurisdictions are also planning the early release of some prisoners as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Mr McNairn said risk assessments would be conducted before any inmates were considered for release, to ensure the public’s safety was not compromised.
“I will only be releasing those prisoners that I think are safe to release,” he said, noting that high-risk inmates would not be considered.
Mr McNairn said he was considering sending some inmates into home detention, or releasing others who had fewer than seven days left on their sentence into the community.
“There’s a plan to try and get as many prisoners out of the prison system safely, [while] still ensuring public safety, I might add, to manage this difficult and challenging situation.”
Corrections staff have drawn up a list of between 50 or 60 inmates who could be considered for release, Mr McNairn said.
However, he added that a final decision on who would be released — and precisely when that would happen — had yet to be made.
“It might be next week, I don’t know at this point in time,” he said.
Earlier this week, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services [NATSILS] called on governments across the country to ensure the early release of Indigenous inmates at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Most of our people in prison have chronic health issues and are living with disability; they are most at risk,” NATSILS members said in a statement.
“With the over-representation of our people in prison, our lives are on the line.”
More than 80 per cent of prisoners in the NT identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, according to 2018 figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Visits by families suspended
The potential release of some inmates in the Territory comes as new visiting restrictions begin to be enforced at correctional centres in Darwin and Alice Springs, as well as work camps in Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy.
From today, social visits by families and friends have been suspended, as have visits by non-essential service providers, including NGOs, official visitors and volunteers.
Scott McNairn said the release was being considered to protect the community. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Mr McNairn said prisoners would be able to make extra phone calls to loved ones.
“Contact with family and friends is important for prisoners, and visits will resume as soon as possible following health authorities reviewing the risks of the infection spreading,” he said.
Lawyers and the judiciary are also being asked to conduct video calls or phone calls to prisoners, instead of attending in person.
“Prisoners will continue to have access to essential medical and support services, with some professional visitors such as lawyers looking to use video links and phone calls to continue their contacts with prisoners,” Mr McNairn said.
NT courts impose restrictions
The NT court system is also making sweeping changes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.
Current trials in the Territory’s Supreme Court will continue, but new trials have been suspended until June 5th this year.
That restriction only applies to matters that would require empanelling a jury.
Local Courts have suspended all circuit court matters with mentions to be made by way of audio link if possible – these changes will stay in place until at least the 1st of May this year, though that timeline will be reviewed.
Similar restrictions apply to the Children’s Court, where all matters will be dealt with through the use of audio visual links.
The full set of changes can be read on the NT court’s website.
Credit: Source link