What we need to do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our Australian criminal justice systems

Today, members of our After Prison Network endorsed an open letter, calling for all Australian governments to take urgent action reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system, especially in prisons and youth detention centres.

The open letter calls on Australian governments, as a matter of urgency, to:

• Ensure people in prison are informed on the status of COVID-19 and their rights;
• Ensure compliance with international laws and the standards for health treatment of
prisoners;
• Adopt, to the extent possible, best-practice sanitation (including alcohol-based sanitisers
if necessary) and social distancing techniques to promote safety;
• Support not-for-profit and government agencies to work with people in prison and their families to find them safe accommodation when they are released;
• Minimise the impact of restrictions on people in prison (e.g., frequent opportunities to
communicate with family online, in the absence of face-to-face visits; increased access to
and availability of phones; judicious approach to the use of solitary confinement);
• Minimise the use of resources on the detection and prosecution of non-violent offences
that do not pose a significant risk to the community;
• Support bail and non-custodial penalties for all defendants who do not present a very high
risk that cannot be managed in the community (eg, through electronic monitoring), noting
that stringent restrictions on daily movement are likely;
• Legislate to require bail and sentencing courts to consider the risk that a current
pandemic will present to the prisoner and their community upon release, with a view to
promoting community-based options;
• Facilitate remote supervision of bail and community corrections;
• Provide additional support to victims, noting the likely increased risk of family violence for
those in home quarantine conditions;
• Resource community legal centres, legal aid, Aboriginal legal services and prosecution
agencies to facilitate remote interaction;
• Provide for the early release of people in prison, including:
*those at high risk of harm from COVID-19, including those with pre-existing health
conditions and older people;
*children and young people;
*those detained for summary offences (e.g., unlawful driving; public disorder; fine
default); property crimes; non-violent drug offences; common assault; and breach of
justice procedures; and *those who are likely to be released in the next six months.

You can read the open letter here.