NSW Corrective Services have defended their decision to keep 400 prisoners locked inside Lithgow Correctional Centre over the weekend, as flames lapped at the boundaries.
The facility is a maximum-security men's prison and approximately one-quarter of those housed inside identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
On Saturday night, the NSW Department of Justice took to social media to share photos of how dangerously close a grass fire had come to the facility, prompting severe backlash online.
“Nearby houses and highways were closed down and evacuated but [NSW Department of Justice] have left inmates inside,” Bundjalung woman Nessa Turnbull-Roberts tweeted.
"I know Australia has a history of killing people in prison but are we really going to let our sisters and brothers suffer through these Fires? Shut the prisons and provide safety."
Other critics labelled the move “monstrous” and “disgusting”.
In a statement to NITV News, the prison said it was the safest option given the circumstances, and that the decision was made in close consultation with the Rural Fire Service.
"There are no plans to evacuate the centre. It is safer to contain the inmates in the centre, given the road closures and fire risks," the statement read.
"There are a number of fire containment measures in place at the site, including fire breaks, and the site has significant fire-fighting capabilities. The centre is built from concrete and steel, and there are buffer zones inside and outside the prison, with a solid concrete fire-protection ring circling the site."
P2 masks were allegedly delivered to staff and prisoners last week, and a spokesperson said there had been no health incidents over the weekend.
Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin praised the staff at the centre for their management of the situation.
“The officers at Lithgow have gone above and beyond their normal duties to ensure the safety and security of staff, inmates and the centre, and I am very proud and grateful to them for this,” Mr Severin said.
“Many CSNSW officers across the state are volunteering with their local Rural Fire Service crews to fight fires – I commend them for their commitment to their communities.”
Despite NSW Department of Justice posting regular updates on the wellbeing of the prisoners, a petition has been created to move the prisoners to a safer location.