• Belinda Beale with her partner who is incarcerated in a New South Wales prison. (Supplied: Belinda Beale)Source: Supplied: Belinda Beale
Advocates are urging that low-risk prisoners be released while families are concerned about their wellbeing.
By
Sarah Collard

Source:
NITV News
1 Sep 2021 - 6:12 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2021 - 6:12 PM

The families of people currently incarcerated in NSW prisons are growing increasingly concerned for their welfare as COVID-19 outbreaks continue to spread in the facilities. 

NSW prison authorities have now recorded at least 116 positive COVID-19 cases - 61 in Parklea, eight cases in Bathurst Correctional facility, 50 confirmed cases in Silverwater men's prison, and at least one case in Silverwater women’s prison.

Authorities said there were four new cases on Wednesday associated with the current prison clusters, but declined to say which prisons. 

Belinda Beale's partner, a Wiradjuri man, is currently in Sydney's Parklea Correctional Center. 

She told NITV News that he is in lockdown and that contact is restricted to weekends.

"I'm immensely scared. I'm very, very scared,” she said.

“We don't even know how our loved ones are doing in there, because if they cannot ring or don't get a phone call through the weekend - we won’t hear back.” 

Ms Beale said she's concerned about the growing number of cases in the prison, with minimal transparency about vaccines for prisoners and the fact that many of those incarcerated have underlying health issues.

“My husband does suffer from mental illness as well and you’ve got to add the isolation on top of it," she said. 

"I don't know what the vaccine rollout is like in there, they don’t tell us anything."

COVID spread in prisons ‘a tinderbox’

The outbreak has alarmed advocates who are pressing the state government to prioritise the safety and well-being of inmates and staff. 

Change the Record’s Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby is calling on the state government to release prisoners serving time for non-violent offences.

"This is devastating, it's just catastrophic," the Narungga woman told NITV News.

“We have been calling for the release of low-risk prisoners for well over 12 months - we knew that once it hit the prison system it would spread very quickly."

"Add a highly infectious strain of the virus in an environment where it is impossible to socially distance and you have a tinderbox waiting to explode."

Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said she was also deeply concerned.

“It’s very worrying for a number of reasons including of course for those people working in prisons and the prisoners themselves,” she said.

“We know that a very large percentage of prison populations are Aboriginal and we also know that a large percentage of the prison population have underlying health conditions. It is extremely worrying.”

 

Less than half of prison staff fully vaccinated

Prison staff are currently required to wear PPE measures to ward against the further spread. 

All new prisoners are tested for the virus and are quarantined for 14 days before they are cleared to enter the mainstream prison population. 

The vaccination efforts in prisons began in March this year, but just 21 per cent of prisoners are fully vaccinated while 42 per cent have had one dose. 

In a statement to NITV News, the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network said 75 per cent of network staff were fully vaccinated, with 84 percent having had one dose. 

Less than half of Corrective Services New South Wales staff are fully vaccinated, with 41.3 per cent having received both doses while 53.5 per cent are partially vaccinated against the virus. 

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