CORRECTIONS Minister Shane Rattenbury has been accused of ignoring calls for the early release of detainees from the Alexander Maconochie Centre in response to the heightened risk coronavirus represents to people in prison.
Julie Tongs, CEO of the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, says she wrote to the minister almost two weeks ago calling on him to give the issue the highest priority but he is yet to answer her letter.
“The view of a wide range of experts, led by Prof Lorana Bartels, of the ANU, is that based on overseas experience it is only a matter of time before there are widespread coronavirus cases in prisons in Australia,” Ms Tongs says.
“The consequences of that occurring are truly frightening and all governments in Australia are being urged to act as quickly as possible to begin the release of prisoners who are of low risk to the community, are serving a short sentence and/or have a vulnerability which could prove fatal if they contract the virus.
“It is universally accepted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are at high risk if they become infected with the virus because of their generally heavy burden of disease and illness.”
She says the Liberal government of NSW introduced and passed enabling legislation two weeks ago to permit the early release of detainees and is, to date, the only government in Australia to respond with urgency to this issue.
“A JACS spokesperson is quoted by “CityNews” as saying that the ACT is considering an early release regime along the lines of NSW but that was a week ago,” she says.
“I note also that the ACT Legislative Assembly is not scheduled to sit again until 7 May. With respect a delay of a further month before acting on this life and death issue is simply not acceptable.”