Justice Action pleads for greater protections for vulnerable prisoners during COVID-19

Justice Action (JA) represents people locked in Australian prisons and hospitals, defending human rights in the hardest places. The movement to provide a voice, and to show support for prisoners dates back to when Australia was a penal colony. JA aims to improve the social and mental health of prisoners and involuntary patients by providing prisoner, mental health and court support. It also engages in policy development, initiates campaigns and liaises with stakeholders. 

Currently incarcerated in a privately-run Victorian prison, Mark Rowson represents many vulnerable prisoners across Australia whose requests to the Government for release due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been unsuccessful.

In his request to the court for an injunction for release, Rowson provided evidence regarding serious breaches of prisoner duty of care and abuses of human rights. Failure to ensure social distancing is possible, provide adequate personal hygiene and sanitation products, wear protective gear and the contamination of laundry items with bodily fluids are among many breaches of care Rowson experiences in prison.

Like many prisoners held in correctional centres, Rowson possesses various health conditions that make him susceptible to contracting coronavirus. He and many other vulnerable prisoners are being held in the ‘infection thriving’, unsanitary and overcrowded environments of prisons. As recent outbreaks overseas have shown, prisons are ‘epicentres’ for the virus, devoid of space and operating over capacity.

Despite Rowson’s injunction for release to the Supreme Court of Victoria being denied, the court ordered Corrections Victoria to undertake a formal risk assessment of Port Phillip Prison according to the CDNA National Guidelines. This is a step in the right direction as prison standards must be increased, but low-risk and vulnerable inmates like Rowson are still threatened by COVID-19. Although the virus has not yet reached prisons, it is not a matter of if, but when that will happen. The urgent need for low-risk and vulnerable prisoners to be released grows as the obligation of governments to their duty of care of those they hold in custody.

Story source: Justice Action. COVID-19. Prisoner’s plea for release.